CINCINNATI -- It is more important now than ever that journalists stick to the facts. Tell the story. Hold our elected officials accountable. Hold our cities accountable for how taxpayer money is used. Follow up with promises our government leaders have made to make sure those promises come to fruition.
Which is why reporters Amanda Seitz, Paula Christian and Hillary Lake decided to check back in on an investigation the I-Team did last year.
That report led Mayor John Cranley to call on City Manager Harry Black to audit the spending habits of the Center for Closing the Health Gap, a city-funded nonprofit aimed at improving minorities' health in Cincinnati.
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The audit found that the Center for Closing the Health Gap should pay money back to the city and that their contract needed to be changed to safeguard how taxpayer money was spent in the future.
We decided a year later to see how things have changed.
This was a natural follow to the story we did last year. It’s how we would follow any big story.
This isn't the only story we've followed up on this year. Here are a few other examples:
- We have written a half-dozen articles questioning secrecy surrounding The Banks project, including if any meetings were held behind closed doors and if the investment taxpayers made was worth it.
- We’ve asked uncomfortable questions for the past six months about FC Cincinnati: How much were the club’s owners giving to the politicians who voted on the project, and what would taxpayers have to spend to make the project a reality?
- After our initial story about FC Cincinnati leaders' donations to politicians, one city council member told us he had given us incorrect information. So we followed up on that, too.
We published a story Thursday morning on our findings almost a year after the audit.
What did we find?
That neither Center for Closing the Health Gap nor Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, another city-funded nonprofit, had paid back money that they said they would repay months ago. We also found out that both nonprofits’ contracts, which Black said last year would be updated to make the nonprofits more accountable, were nearly identical to the ones from last year.
In short: Almost nothing has been done.
One of our primary goals as journalists is to hold powerful elected officials and government entities accountable.
The Center for Closing the Health Gap and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful still owed more than $40,000 combined after last year’s audit. The money went uncollected even as Black implemented a hiring freeze and warned of a $25 million deficit.
Let’s say you get a parking ticket in the city of Cincinnati. You have to pay it within two weeks, or the price goes up. It is our responsibility to report it if some people get special exceptions while others don’t.
To be clear, this isn't just about the Health Gap or Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.
Former City Councilman Kevin Flynn said he wonders what the city would uncover if it audited every outside group that gets taxpayer money.
“So if we were to audit 18 outside organizations, how many of those would we find had misspent money?” Flynn asked. “Would we find all 18? Or would we find that all 18 contracts that had been entered into for fiscal year 2018 … were the exact same as they were for fiscal year 2017?”
If we have elected officials asking these questions then we're doing our job.
So, yes, we will continue to report this story. Just as we would continue to report any allegation of improper use of taxpayer money.
One of our goals here at WCPO is to be transparent. We want to be clear, in our storytelling and reporting, about where we get information and how we convey it. We are also eager to clarify why we make the decisions we do – whether that’s answering your questions in emails or phone calls or through on-air or online features explaining our actions. Click here to read more about who we are and what we do.
Meghan Wesley is a digital enterprise editor who oversees government, politics and business content for WCPO.com.