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Young: Cranley's veto on Health Gap funding is about a vendetta

Posted at 12:38 AM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 00:58:47-04

CINCINNATI -- The Center for Closing the Health Gap, a nonprofit ostensibly meant to keep fresh produce and effective health education accessible in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods, received over $3.8 million from the city of Cincinnati between 2007 and 2017.

An investigation and audit found that during that time, it failed to keep foundational promises such as stocking healthy produce in 11 stores across the city and instead spent significant amounts on money on advertising. At the end of the audit, the center was ordered to pay back around $40,000 it had improperly spent.

That's why one-time supporter Mayor John Cranley vetoed a city budget that would have allocated $750,000 to the organization in 2019, he said Monday. 

"All the human service agencies who get money from the city have to compete on the same basis," he said. "They shouldn't get a special line item and special treatment, they should be treated the same as every other group."

Some leaders in the black community, however, said they believe the thumbs-down was a personal attack on Health Gap founder and former mayor Dwight Tillery.

"Dwight Tillery decided he wouldn't support the mayor for re-election," Councilman Wendell Young said, referring to the 2017 mayoral election in which Cranley defeated challenger Yvette Simpson. "That's what changed, and all of a sudden, the Center for Closing the Health Gap couldn't do anything right."

Young met Monday night with leaders including Bishop Bobby Hilton, former council member Charlie Winburn, Baptist Ministers Conference of Cincinnati president Mark Bomar and Tillery himself at the Avondale Business Center. Tillery declined to comment, but many his supporters vouched for the organization personally.

"The Health Gap set up programs in our ministry," Hilton said. "The Health Gap helped us to put a garden on our property."

Bennett Allen, the Health Gap's attorney, said it immediately moved to repair the errors uncovered by the investigation and audit, and it deserved another chance to work with legislators toward better, more successful implementation of its goals.

"There's a lot more work to be done," he said. "Obviously, these are not problems that can be addressed or solved overnight by any stretch of the imagination, but I want to get across that the Center for Closing the Health Gap is doing good work in the community and will continue to do good work in the community."

City Council can override Cranley's veto and award funding to the Health Gap Wednesday with a six-vote majority.