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by Mark Reutter11:25 amMar 28, 20240

City seeks to terminate contract with The Pride Center of Maryland

The nonprofit, which sponsors the annual Baltimore Pride celebration, allegedly misstated the number of participants in its program after it was awarded $500,000 in ARPA funds

Above: Cleo Manago, CEO of The Pride Center of Maryland, appears on the Rock Newman Show last August. (YouTube)

The Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs has taken the unusual step of calling for the termination of an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant to The Pride Center of Maryland.

Best known for sponsoring the annual Baltimore Pride celebration that attracts thousands of participants, as well as leading city and state politicians, PCOM failed to document how it spent a $500,000 grant for violence prevention education and outreach.

In a detailed eight-page letter by Chief Recovery Officer Shamiah T. Kerney, PCOM is accused of “repeatedly failing to collect and submit required documentation to validate reported performance data for the project.”

The organization also reportedly failed to show that it had not “duplicated” ARPA-funded benefits provided by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety & Engagement and the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services.

Instead, Kerney wrote, PCOM blew off her monitoring team by emailing them 11 program flyers.

Kerney said the group had not responded in mid-January to her Notice of Default as well as other correspondence, and was “terminated for cause” by the Recovery Office on March 8.

The issue now heads to the spending board, presumably for a final resolution, on April 3.

Reporting Defects Acknowledged

Cleo Manago, the CEO of the Pride Center, was not available at its North Baltimore office yesterday and has not responded to requests for comment.

In a March 27 letter sent to the Board of Estimates, which was obtained today by The Brew, Manago acknowledges that the group’s prior reporting was inadequate, but pledges to make “concerted efforts” to rectify the situation.

“We at PCOM understand the significance of managing and collecting required performance metrics for grant-funded programs. I assure you that we are dedicated to learning from this experience and making the necessary changes to become a more effective and valuable recipient of this project and continued partner with the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs.”

The letter concludes, “I kindly request an opportunity to present and discuss my appeal further. We are open to any guidance, feedback, or conditions that would allow our organization to continue to demonstrate our commitment to continue to serve Baltimore City community members who benefit from PCOM’s VIP [violence intervention and prevention] services and trainings.”

Flier for this year's Baltimore Pride celebration, to be held in June, featuring Gov. Wes Moore, Pride Center of Maryland CEO Cleo Manago and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. (Pride Center Instagram)

Flier for this year’s Baltimore Pride celebration features Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Pride Center CEO Cleo Manago and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. (Pride Center Instagram)

Announced with Fanfare

The original grant was announced with fanfare by Mayor Brandon Scott and approved by the BOE on October 19, 2022.

According to the mayor, PCOM would use the ARPA money “to address the issue of increased violence, particularly among sexual and gender minority populations, through community outreach, individualized assessments, benefits navigation, physical and mental health referrals, education assistance, enrichment activities and employment programming.”

Fully half of the funds ($244,896) were allocated to staffing costs, which were to include the hiring of at least six professionals, including a managing director, associate director, program coordinator, violence prevention educator, peer educator and clinical supervisor.

Another $152,000 was to go to partner organizations to assist in violence prevent education, $25,400 for peer support leaders and $41,000 for a bus and billboard campaign.

So far, $250,000 of the $500,000 grant has been spent by the nonprofit, according to the Recovery Office’s February 2024 report to the City Council.

Rapid Growth

Founded in 1977 as the Gay Community Center of Baltimore, the organization added the word “lesbian” to its name in 1985 and informally added other designations before it was renamed The Pride Center of Maryland in 2019.

The group has grown exponentially in recent years, its annual revenues rising from under $400,000 in 2018 to $2.14 million in 2022.

Most of the funds come from public sources and events, with small grants from the T. Rowe Price Foundation and other private charities.

According to its latest 990 Form, filed last November with the IRS, the group spent $167,000 on special events in 2022, $360,000 for contract services, $151,000 for office rent and expenses, and $70,000 for promotion.

The vast bulk of its spending – $930,000 – went to staff salaries, although Manago and other Pride officers reported “$0 compensation” on the 990 Form.

In 2021, the group purchased a rowhouse on the 2400 block of St. Paul Street as its headquarters for $425,000, land records show.

Misspending by Lazarus Rite

Last month, Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming cited another local nonprofit for misuse of ARPA funds.

The nonprofit, earlier identified as The Lazarus Rite, was granted $1.6 million under the Mayor’s Clean Corps initiative to remove trash from city streets employing ex-offenders.

Handed a $415,000 advance in January 2023, the group did not pay wages and some subcontractor services, according to the Cumming report, diverting some of the funds for salaries related to a separate contract with the city Department of Public Works.

Altogether, $129,000 was unaccounted for or disallowed, Cumming reported.

Christopher Ervin, founder and owner of the workforce development company, “has communicated that it does not have funding to repay the balance owed,” Cumming noted in her February 29 report.

Yesterday Cumming said she could “neither confirm or deny” whether her office was looking into the PCOM grant.

• To reach a reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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