A District government agency's contract with a Northeast Baptist church to pay ministers $50 to attend antidrug seminars has come under City Council scrutiny after council members learned the program is scheduled for a three-fold increase in the coming year, to $75,000.
The program was begun in 1985 and cost taxpayers $25,000 last year, according to testimony by Lonnie Mitchell, the director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration, which arranged the contract with the Upper Room Baptist Church, 60 Burns St. NE.
Council Chairman David A. Clarke said he had asked for evaluation reports and a copy of the contract, but had not received them in time for Wednesday's hearing on the $856 million Department of Human Services budget.
"Are ministers being paid $50 to preach against drugs?" he asked.
Mitchell responded that some ministers are paid to train other ministers about drug problems and prevention. The Rev. Vincent Allen, a minister at Upper Room Baptist Church who oversees the program, could not be reached for comment.
In an interview, Mitchell said the Substance Abuse Partnership Program is aimed at involving 300 local churches in efforts to curb drug abuse.
He said that "trainers," including some ministers, received $100 a day or $50 an evening for their time.
Ministers were paid $50 each week to attend six weekly two-hour seminars held in agency offices, according to one Baptist minister who attended the sessions. Other ministers received $50 for giving antidrug speeches after attending the educational seminars.
Several church choirs also received fees for singing at seminars, according to the minister, who said he had dropped out of the program.
"It just seemed political to me," said the minister, who feared reprisals if his name were used. "I don't think the mayor should give ministers money for community service they should be doing."
A spokeswoman for the mayor said she was unaware of the contract and said a spokesman for the Department of Human Services should speak about the issue. The department spokesman did not comment.
"The churches are a way to reach parents, many of whom deny their children are involved in drugs," Mitchell said. "We've trained a number of ministers to have one-on-one sessions" with drug-troubled youths.
Mitchell said he did not know how much the ministers were paid for the counseling sessions with youths.
Clarke also questioned why the agency is waiting until the spring to begin several drug programs the council appropriated money for last fall, including a $934,000 education program in the schools.
Mitchell said that the program, along with the opening of two 25-bed treatment programs for youth, took longer to establish than expected, but should begin within 40 days.
The council also learned there is an accelerating problem of detaining delinquent juveniles; an increase in drug and stolen auto arrests has filled all three of the city's juvenile detention facilities with 157 juveniles.
Instead of the Cedar Knoll facility's being closed, as city officials planned, it now is filled.
But Social Services Commissioner Audrey Rowe said the city is building an 80-bed modular unit behind Oak Hill detention center so it can close the Cedar Knoll campus.