A state lawmaker from Northwest Philadelphia told NewsWorks on Wednesday that a recently-ended state probe into alleged financial irregularities at the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation boiled down to “political profiling.”
According to a report in Wednesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the state has wrapped up a two-year investigation into OARC’s use of millions in grant dollars and attributed no wrongdoing to the nonprofit.
This news comes after OARC, a community development corporation based in West Oak Lane, agreed to return $1.2. million in public money, withdraw four grant requests, and undergo stricter spending controls, according to the report.
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203) said that the settlement further proved what he suspected all along: That the state had targeted the community development corporation because of his ties to the group.
“Because I had started OARC, I think that for some reason, these individuals thought that there was some type of political shenanigans taking place,” said Evans. “My feeling from the very beginning is that there was no basis whatsoever about this probe — that OARC had conducted itself above board.”
Citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, Evans had previously declined to address the probe directly.
The agreement, reportedly completed July 11, lifts a funding freeze put in place during the state’s investigation.
OARC, like many nonprofits, has relied heavily on state grants to fund its efforts over the past 30 years, most of which have been centered in West Oak Lane. They’ve included, among other things, an overhaul of Ogontz Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor, and the now-defunct West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.
OARC head welcomes the news
Jack Kitchen, OARC’s longtime president, said he’s pleased to again be working with the state’s Department of Community & Economic Development, which has dispatched much of that funding over the years.
He said it hasn’t been easy these past couple of years.
“Situations such as this cause a lot of tension with relationships, which are something we rely heavily upon,” Kitchen said Wednesday via email. “I have been very pleased with the number of vendors, financial institutions and others that continued to work with us even in these challenging times.”
Kitchen added that the state has restored the nonprofit’s “good standing” status and noted that “this matter has been closed in my mind since it began.”
What it means
Steve Kratz, spokesperson for DCED, said the settlement agreement with OARC “achieves the administration’s goal and commitment to ensuring the transparency and accountability of the expenditure of public funds.”
Kratz noted that the state’s probe was not politically motivated.
Kitchen said a number of Commonwealth-funded projects are now moving forward, including a LEED-certified twin housing model on Sprague Street and a streetscape project along a commercial stretch of Stenton Avenue.
That project, which also includes city money, will add new crosswalks, benches, pedestrian lighting and façade improvements, said Kitchen.
“I’m happy that it is over so that the Ogontz Avenue Corporation can concentrate on building businesses and concentrating on jobs,” said Evans
In March, the Inquirer reported that that a confidential state report stated that OARC had “misspent or mismanaged portions of state grants worth $12 million since 2006, violated bid rules, and made questionable real estate purchases with taxpayer funds, according to a state investigation.”