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Lawmaker Says Amistad Report Is ‘A Joke’

by Christine Stuart | Sep 12, 2013 12:00pm
(5) Comments | Commenting has expired

Courtesy of Creative Commons

The Amistad

The lawmaker who raised questions about the state’s contribution to Amistad America called a three-page report on the program’s status a “joke” on Wednesday.

“This really is what’s destroying faith in government,” Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said Wednesday of the report, which was released by state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith.

For the past few months, Urban has been raising questions about Amistad America Inc., the organization that manages the replica schooner taken over by African captives in 1839. The former captives landed in Long Island, N.Y. and were jailed in New Haven, but a group of abolitionists secured their freedom in a landmark court case.

The organization operating the replica schooner recently lost its nonprofit status and Urban has been critical of the decisions made by its board of directors. She has called for the dissolution of the board and believes the state, as one of its primary funders, should have the ability to hold it accountable.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, heard the criticism and asked Smith what could be done to hold the organization accountable.

The three-page report released Wednesday by Smith concluded that her agency has little control over an organization it funds.

“DECD administers a pass-through of these funds to Amistad America, but has no authority to impose conditions on the funding or to withhold payment for non-performance,” Smith wrote Wednesday in her three-page report.

“Under current law, there are no requirements we can impose on line-item recipients — other than ensuring they get a clean audit,” Smith wrote.

The Office of Policy and Management has hired an outside auditing firm for $78,000 to audit Amistad America. The money for the audit will come from Amistad America’s annual $379,000 allocation from the state.

Basically, what the state is saying is it’s “not our bad,” Urban said.

Urban applauded the decision to audit the organization and she’s aware that the organization has said it would seek to have its nonprofit status reinstated, but she isn’t confident the organization is actually moving in that direction.

Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, said Thursday that she’s done talking to the news media about this.

“Every time I take a minute to talk to the media, it’s a minute I’m not spending doing my job,” Washington said after an event at the state Capitol.

She said her message has not properly been conveyed and the news media continues to ignore the organization’s good programming. She said she is done answering questions about it because it only furthers “Representative Urban’s political agenda, and that’s not my job.”

In Wednesday’s report, Smith said the legislature should give her agency or the Office of Culture and Tourism, which she oversees, more control of individual line items.

Urban concluded that since the organization submitted applications to DECD for the funding, the DECD should have the ability to approve or deny those applications. But having looked at those applications, Urban said the organization simply copy-pasted the information from year-to-year. That’s “unacceptable,” she added.

In addition to funding the $2.5 million cost of constructing the ship in 1999-2000, the state has invested more than $9 million in the ship and its facilities, including an annual allocation of about $379,000 from the state budget.

The 129-foot Baltimore clipper — which is listed in state statute as Connecticut’s “flagship” — is currently in Puerto Rico where it’s being used in a TV series about pirates. Urban said it should be at the Connecticut Schooner Festival in Mystic that started Wednesday. She said she worries that the boat is too far south of its port during hurricane season and she doesn’t think the $200,000 the organization is receiving for the TV series is enough.

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(5) Comments

posted by: JamesBronsdon | September 12, 2013  12:21pm

Sounds like an awfully big “investment” by the state - especially in one whose Exec. Director isn’t willing to answer questions. And now we’ve got to pay $79,000 to audit the investment. Yikes. Stay on top of this Rep. Urban. Something’s fishy.

posted by: JAM | September 12, 2013  12:50pm

So $9Million later, nobody knows anything, and nobody is responsible.
Smith says the DECD can’t control the funds. Nobody bothered to point that out before? And if urban hadn’t raised it, nobody would have pointed it out now (including Smith).
A prime example of how the state looks out for the taxpayer. Nobody cares.

posted by: robn | September 12, 2013  1:15pm

wow.

Just looked at their last IRS 990 filed in 2009. Besides the lack of detail, they paid their Director $122K?!?

They also made $46,000 of Board approved, no paperwork loans to a group of people including their Board Chair Fredrica Gray. Also:
Bettye Fletcher
Howard Slotnick
Quentin Snediker
William Kraus
William Minter

wow.

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | September 12, 2013  4:12pm

In a more real world, the state would have given a well proven operation the contract to build and operate the ship like Mystic Maritime.  Add to this the “investigation shield’ that come with having a project about Slavery and you’ve got a winner.  The State still has the authority to petition a court to dissolve the organization I’m pretty sure

posted by: robn | September 12, 2013  5:05pm

Toni Harp was shoulder to shoulder with their executive director not one year ago for a photo op on the deck of the Amistad. Fact.