The state Attorney General’s office, on behalf of Gov. Tom Corbett and administration budget and economic development officials, is seeking to have a lawsuit filed against them by the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation tossed out of court.
OARC, the Northwest Philadelphia community development and social-service powerhouse founded by state Rep. Dwight Evans, sued the governor, state treasurer and several other officials on Dec. 31, alleging they improperly cancelled more than $7 million in grants awarded to the group.
In a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court, chief deputy attorney general Barry N. Kramer responded to OARC’s suit by challenging the group’s ability to sue the state.
It alleges that OARC had not followed proper procedures in seeking grants through the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and Department of Economic and Community Development.
No response to the developments
Reached Wednesday, Kramer declined comment on the case.
OARC’s attorney, S. Howard Fineman, was said to be out of his office for the week and could not be reached for comment.
Jack Kitchen, executive director of OARC which is the named plaintiff in the suit, requested a list of written questions for this story, then said he couldn’t comment on anything to do with the lawsuit (PDF).
The suit claims the Corbett administration is unfairly targeting them without explanation, and says in its suit that the state reneged on grant awards approved under former Gov. Ed Rendell, citing unspecified only unspecified “irregularities.”
According to the suit, over the several years pre-Corbett in which OARC had received grants, contracts were routinely amended or otherwise changed, with no effect on the flow of money.
Two major grants, one a $500,000 award for the Ogontz Plaza project from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, and a $700,000 award from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for the West Oak Lane Plaza, were cancelled in Feb. 2012 after the Corbett administration began reviewing RACP grants.
OARC’s suit alleges the state is punishing them as part of an investigation about which the group is being kept in the dark, and says it cooperated with several audits.
Confidential state audit
OARC was referenced in an Inquirer story regarding funding freezes and a confidential state audit which showed Urban Affairs Coalition mismanagement of $1.5 million in grants over more than a decade in which the group received $28 million in grants for community development projects.
In it, the newspaper stated, “a similar freeze has been imposed on the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, a nonprofit [state Rep. Dwight] Evans founded in 1983.”
Kitchen did address the question of how the state’s funding freeze has affected OARC’s overall mission, listing more than half-dozen projects ongoing or planned.
Kitchen said OARC planned a $2 million streetscape project for Stenton Avenue, and another yet-unspecified $1.5 million streetscape effort and completed the rebuilding of its new offices at the former Club Jaguar nuisance bar site.
He said OARC currently has five houses under construction, operates street cleaning and housing counseling services, and will host a Night Market along Ogontz Avenue in June.
OARC has been at the center of an ongoing larger effort in the “Gateway to the Northwest” area near Ogontz and Cheltenham avenues, which has seen the overhaul of the SEPTA bus loop and the completion of a Brown’s ShopRite.
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Correction: An original version of this story incorrectly stated a plaintiff in the case. The plaintiff is the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. Jack Kitchen is CEO and executive director of OARC. Also, it incorrectly stated the primary focus of a confidential audit. The Urban Affairs Council was the focus of that document.