Leaders of the District's 20 Neighborhood Planning Councils this week accused the Recreation Department of mismanaging their $855,000-a-year community volunteer program for youths, while Recreation Department officials in turn blamed the NPC leaders for some of the problems.
The NPC officials said their organizations have suffered from funding cuts and delays, inadequate technical assistance and insensitive treatment by staff members of the Recreation Department. The department oversees the community volunteer program.
The charges and countercharges came at a five-hour hearing Monday of the Committee on Libraries, Recreation and Youth Affairs, headed by council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7).
The 15-year-old NPC program, funded by the District and federal governments, is a citywide job and social enrichment program run by and for disadvantaged youths age 13 to 21. Each NPC is run by seven officers--four adults and three youths--elected in community voting every two years.
Federal funds pay for training in sewing, shoe repair, computer skills, catering, printing and other occupations, while District monies cover summer and cultural enrichment programs, including trips to museums, sports programs, music, boxing and karate classes and summer concerts where youth bands perform.
The NPC leaders said a major problem facing their organizations is that most have been unable to start programs because funds for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 were delayed.
Some NPC programs were not started until two weeks ago. Some staff and youth workers have not been paid, NPC officials said. American University student John Libby, a former participant in NPC programs and now administrator for NPCs 2 and 3, said he has worked full time since October without pay.
"Youth come in ready to start jobs and get turned away," said Johnnie Mae Durant, adult chairwoman of NPC 3. "It's unconscionable to do that to youth."
Crawford said he called the hearing because of numerous complaints that "there's poor administration, lack of funds to start programs . . . and youth had not been paid." After the hearing, he said, he will make recommendations to the City Council, which may result in "some policy changes."
Differences between the NPCs and the Recreation Department date back at least to the 1976 transfer of the NPCs to the department's Community Based Programs (CBP) division when their former parent agency, the Youth Opportunity Services, was dissolved.
"NPC was a big animal and they were making a lot of political decisions," Samuel LaBeach, associate director of the Recreation Department, said in an interview. "They were too big, too out of control. They lost some of the freedom they had when they had to conform to the rules and regulations of the Recreation Department. They don't like it, but that's the reality."
Many NPC leaders said they would like to see their programs removed from Recreation Department control.
"The truth is there are few requirements of the Youth Services Act under which NPCs operate that have not been ignored by CBP," Joseph Carter, head of the NPC Council of Chairpersons, testified at recreation budget hearings in January. "As a result, an agency established almost entirely for the purpose of supporting the NPCs is doing worse than nothing toward that end; it is actually weakening them."
Recreation Department officials acknowledged on Monday that there have been some problems between the NPCs and CBP staff members but said those problems are being resolved.
Recreation Department Director Alexis Roberson said problems within the NPCs have contributed to mismanagement of the organizations. She said some NPC leaders have hired their relatives and friends, used NPC funds for purchases unrelated to the program and failed to adequately include the community in the programs.
"We've had some serious problems trying to exert authority," Roberson said. "NPCs don't feel they should have to bend to our authority."
Most NPC chairmen who testified complained of lost documents, repeated obstacles to their program proposals and unexpected budget cuts--all the fault of the department, they said.
Kathy Dunston, chairwoman of NPC 13, said, " CBP is not doing its job."
Not all the NPC chairmen agreed with the complaints. "The people who need the least are complaining the most," said Everette Hackney, chairman of NPC 20. He accused NPC chairmen of being too political and praised Roberson and her staff.
Even the NPC leaders who dissented criticized the department for the funding delays. They said the delays have made it difficult to get community and business support that is necessary for NPC operation and that they have lost both youth and adult volunteers.
"I'm getting out," said Carter in an interview last week. "I couldn't hack it another year. In 25 years of community organizing, I have never seen anything like this."
Both sides in the dispute agree that the Recreation Department initially told each NPC it had $41,500 in D.C. funds to spend this year. They agree that CBP manager Hans Larsen informed them in January that they would get only $24,000 and asked for revised plans based on that amount.
"Most of the revised proposals were late," which caused some of the delays, Larsen said last week.
Carter contended that most of the proposals were in on time. "It's a lie," he said. "It took them from October 1 to January to tell us how much money we had . . . . The delays were caused by the Division of Community Based Programs and the Department of Recreation."
Anne Washington, youth chairwoman of NPC 3, said: "We were promised a large amount of money before the election. After the election things got held up more than usual. I can deal with budget cuts, but we want to know the truth."
Despite membership attrition and drastic budget cuts (NPCs received $375,000 in federal grants in fiscal 1983, down from a high of $2.6 million in 1969), all involved in the program said they think it is worthwhile.
Rachel Mays, 16, who worked as a gymnastic class assistant at Murch Elementary School, said she is "really impressed with the program" but not happy that "we didn't get paid on time."
"I think all our my programs are good," Larsen said. "We've been enthusiastic because the community has been very innovative in developing programs."
"It's a tremendous training ground for service to the city," said Barbara Luchs, NPC historian.
"It's neat to see the things you've thought about become a reality," said Anne Washington, 17. She plans to attend Brown University next fall where, she said, "I'll probably be a political activist because I've gotten a very close look at how a bureaucracy runs."