Thursday, August 05, 1999

City Council approves $150K for health activists

But officials ask for spending plan

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With no detail on how the money will be spent, Cincinnati City Council voted Wednesday to give $150,000 to an agency that hopes to improve the health of local African-Americans.

        The African-American Health Network, which has been meeting informally for 18 months and incorporated in April, is alarmed by national statistics that show African-Americans die more frequently from some common ailments, said executive director Jan Harper-Jackson.

        The network earlier received a $118,000 grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. Council approved the $150,000 contribution by a 7-2 vote.

        Ms. Harper-Jackson said the Health Foundation grant will allow the network to set up an office and write a business plan. The city money, she said, will pay for focus groups, data compilation, surveys and stakeholder interviews. But she could not offer a written spending plan.

        “This is a very worthy cause ... but this is no way to do budgeting, it's no way to run a city,” said Councilman Phil Heimlich, one of two members who ultimately voted against the spending. “We're considering this on the fly.”

        At one point, Ms. Harper-Jackson said she was “overwhelmed” with council members' questions, and for a moment refused to return to the podium.

        Mayor Roxanne Qualls said that if she was asking for $150,000 in city money, she should answer as many questions as council members had for her.

        Ms. Qualls, who also voted no, pointed out that another vote of council is required to spend the money, and that cannot be done until September. She asked Ms. Harper-Jackson to meet with city administrators in the interim.

        “I would like to vote yes (in September), but I will only do that if we have a report from the administration that clearly explains what the money will be spent for,” Ms. Qualls said, adding that the network must integrate its program with other health initiatives or it could “fall flat.”

        Vice Mayor Minette Cooper, who proposed the spending, defended it. She said Ms. Harper-Jackson has met with Cincinnati Health Commissioner Dr. Malcolm Adcock and the network passed the scrutiny of the Health Foundation to receive a start-up grant.

        “Dr. Adcock knows these people, he has worked with them, he has talked with them,” Mrs. Cooper said. “We do not give money to people until the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.”

        A case in point, she said, is $150,000 she proposed to spend to buy the Moore Universite of Hair Design in Pleasant Ridge for a welfare-to-work program. When the would-be owners did not follow the rules, the funding was withdrawn, Mrs. Cooper said. That is the money she proposed to use for the health network.

        Councilman Jim Tarbell said his staff had telephoned Dr. Adcock on Wednesday, and the health commissioner had not seen a budget for Ms. Harper-Jackson's network, but he vouched for the organization.

        Disparity in health care between minority and white Americans is well- documented. In February, President Clinton announced a public awareness campaign, focusing on diabetes, cardiovascular disease, AIDS, cancer, immunizations and infant mortality.

        Mrs. Cooper proposed the $150,000 funding in a motion that was signed by four other council members: Paul Booth, Jeanette Cissell, Todd Portune and Charlie Winburn.

        The idea did not go through the usual scrutiny of a council subcommittee.


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