Columbus MHA Housing Fund Fiasco

Four Columbus-area newspapers have been paid over $100,000 dollars by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) to advertise classifieds and legal ads, but one newspaper’s records shows more money being paid out than recorded.

Starting on February 17, 2009, money from one Department of House and Urban Development grant, to be used to improve already existing housing units in the area, has provided “advertisement services for nine (9) projects, funded thru the ARRA funds.”

The four newspapers the CMHA advertises in are the Cleveland Call and Post, the Columbus Communicator, the Minority Communicator and the Columbus Dispatch.

Charles Hillman, head of the CMHA, says the advertising costs correlates to the requirement by federal law that there be public and open solicitation to perform a service for these types of projects. He did not cite the law. Hillman replaced Dennis Guest earlier this summer, after serving for 24 years.

In an e-mail to the Buckeye Institute, Hillman says, “CMHA Policy in selecting contractors based on Public Bidding Process. All construction projects above $25,000 are Publicly Bid out, and advertised in the local news paper. The LOWEST AND BEST BIDDER “CONTRACTOR’ IS AWARDED THE CONTRACT.”

Hillman says, “According to CMHA Purchasing Policy, ads are placed in the local paper (The Columbus Dispatch, The Call & Post, an MBE [Minority Business Enterprise] paper, and the Community Communicator, an MBE paper). Ads are placed for two weeks. We usually advertise for five ads in the Dispatch, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and the first Sunday of the third week. The ads in the other two papers are on Thursdays only. For the Stimulus Package projects we added one more weeks of the ads to insure contractor’s participation. Thus advertising seven ads in three weeks.”

The three other grants in the Columbus area were awarded to the City of Columbus, not CMHA.

Jack Harris, president and publisher of The Communicator News, says they’ve been running classified ads for CMHA for years. He says they “don’t keep a record,” but “if the [CMHA] say[s] they did it, then they did.” The Communicator News includes both the Columbus Communicator and the Minority Communicator newspapers. The CMHA has reported paying the two Communicator newspapers $7,800 collectively for advertising services between February 17, 2009 and June 30, 2010.

The Cleveland Call and Post is the only newspaper to show records of what kind of advertising CMHA does and, even though they were incomplete, they revealed a number of financial discrepancies.

The first quarter, for example, technically started on February 17, 2009 and ended on September 30, 2009. Two payments of $370.48 were made, however, on January 22 and 28, 2009, and a third on February 11, 2009 for $268.28. None had descriptions.

In the official report, the CMHA claimed to pay the Call and Post $1,396 for the first quarter. The records provided to the Buckeye Institute starting on February 18, 2009 to August 26, 2009 show payments totaling $6,187.38 for CMHA classifieds and legal ads.

Victoria Mockabee, the Call and Post’s current Department Coordinator, says the dates and amounts provided “is all I can find from 2009 from the previous person who handled this position.”

The Columbus Dispatch would not discuss specifics of the CMHA advertising, but the CMHA public reports show payments totaling over $80,000.

The fifth quarter report is scheduled to be released on September 30, 2010. Hillman says the report “will show all projects 100% completed.” The sixth report, to come out on December 31, 2010, “will show all Stimulus Funds 100% expended and drawn.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Akron 11 grants, Cincinnati 35 grants, Cleveland 7 grants, Columbus 4 grants, Dayton 10 and Toledo 11 grants and 5 contracts. Ohio has received 920 contracts, 6850 awards and 39 loans in total, amounting to over $7.82 billion dollars.

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