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The Dripby Mark Reutter5:55 pmApr 3, 20240

Spending board backs the Recovery Office, terminates ARPA grant to the Pride Center

Pride Center’s CEO unsuccessfully argues that the office monitoring ARPA funds was hostile and dismissive after his organization suffered “a data-related disaster”

Above: Pride CEO Cleo Manago addresses the Board of Estimates. (Charm TV)

The Baltimore Board of Estimates today stripped $250,000 from a $500,000 grant to The Pride Center of Maryland and terminated the group’s contract to provide violence intervention services for the LGBTQ+ community.

The highly unusual move comes after the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs said the nonprofit, best known for hosting the annual Baltimore Pride celebration, repeatedly failed to submit documentation of its spending of ARPA (American Rescue Act Plan) money, as reported last week by The Brew.

Cleo Manago, CEO of the Pride Center, insisted today that the issues raised by the Recovery Office were minor and were tied to “a data-related disaster” in its transmittal of information to the city last fall.

Both Recovery Officer Shamiah T. Kerney and City Solicitor Ebony Thompson had none of it.

Kerney said the nonprofit reported serving 549 people when, in fact, only 176 people participated.

Thompson pressed Manego on the faulty data, asking, “Are you acknowledging that the participants that you stated to the Recovery Office did not match up with what you actually had?”

“What I’m acknowledging,” Manago answered, “is that there was an electronic glitch in the sending of this huge package of email in, like, Google Drive, that interfered with the quality of the data.”

Hostility vs. Accountability

Over the course of 90 minutes, Manago repeatedly accused Kerney and her staff of “dismissiveness and hostility” toward his organization.

“We were being hit with different things. It was difficult to come up for air and consider things because it was, like, bam, bam, bam.”

Asked how the Board of Estimates should resolve the matter, Manego said, “Suspend the termination and investigate them [the Recovery Office].”

Kerney argued that accepting faulty data from grant recipients could endanger the $641 million pot of ARPA money allocated to Baltimore. Terminating this contract would “demonstrate accountability and integrity,” she said.

Worried about how the Pride Center was spending funds as early as last October, Kerney said her office repeatedly tried to get answers, holding 14 meetings with the organization and submitting 17 “findings” that needed to be immediately addressed.

Only one of the 17 findings was ever resolved, she said.

Mayor Brandon Scott and Comptroller Bill Henry voted to terminate the grant, while City Council President Nick Mosby abstained.

Other Pride Contracts

Today’s action removes $250,000 from the $500,000 grant, of which $244,000 has already been spent.

The Pride Center holds two other ARPA awards:

• $270,000 with the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services to house 10 families experiencing homelessness.

• $510,000 with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety & Engagement (MONSE) also for violence interference services and outreach for sexual and gender minorities.

The homeless money has already been expended, the board was told, and Mayor Scott announced that the MONSE grant would not be impacted by today’s decision.

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