The 80-member Annapolis Housing Authority's drum and bugle corps matches neither the size nor the sound of the 300-member University of Texas Marching Band or the 250-member University of North Carolina Marching Band, but it tops both in one category: its annual budget.
While the university bands run on annual budgets of about $35,000 each, the Housing Authority, which provides public housing for low-income families, has allocated $41,000 in federal funds for its corps. The funding prompted a recent public outcry, as well as federal investigations into the possible misuse of the funds.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month exonerated the Annapolis authority's spending of the funds for a drum and bugle corps, believed to be one of the few bands operated by a housing authority, at least in the region covering Maryland, Virginia and the District, federal officials said. New York City authorities said their housing agency has an orchestra.
The HUD inquiry into the Annapolis authority, which is also being separately investigated by the FBI for allegations of fraud and mismanagement, started this year when local government officials objected to its proposed $76,000 public relations expenditures -- including the $41,000 for the corps -- from a federal program that provides rent subsidies for low-income families. Some Annapolis officials, noting there are 750 families on a waiting list for public housing, charged that the funds should have been allotted for improvements in housing.
HUD, however, determined last week that the $76,000 expenditure, which included $25,000 for an Aug. 14 Housing Authority 50th anniversary celebration and $10,000 for two videotapes about the authority, were valid as administrative expenses.
But now, it appears that the authority could have used the band for little or no charge from a local American Legion post, which had sponsored the group before it was lured away by the Housing Authority.
HUD officials said this week that they were unaware at the time of their investigation that the authority could have used the group virtually for free.
HUD officials said they may reexamine the Housing Authority's claim in last month's investigation that $16,000 was needed to buy new uniforms and equipment and pay for travel expenses in light of statements this week by band organizers that the corps has been equipped with uniforms and instruments for more than five years.
"Anything the band needs, it just about has," drum and bugle corps director Robert Beans said in an interview. "I don't see any great expenses."
He said that corps has received about $5,000 in new uniforms bearing the Housing Authority's colors -- gray and maroon -- and about $1,000 in new drums and cymbals.
The saga of the corps, which consists primarily of youths who live in the authority's housing projects and who volunteer their services, begins with the Cook Pinckney American Legion Post in Annapolis.
According to Cook Pinckney spokesman Marion Wells, the drum and bugle corps had been sponsored by the post until last September. The band's uniforms, he said, were provided by the post, and the instruments -- drums, bugles and cymbals -- were donated by the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
In all, Wells said, operation of the corps, which performed in about 15 to 20 parades and other events each year, cost the American Legion post about $2,000 a year in travel and other expenses.
Wells added that the American Legion would have donated the services of the corps to the Housing Authority.
The corps, however, was lured away by the authority after being offered better practice facilities, new uniforms and a more convenient meeting place, Beans said. After that, he said, the group became the authority's permanent musical ensemble and has performed in a handful of parades and festivals, including yesterday's Afram Festival in Baltimore.
According to HUD official Steven Switzer, the Housing Authority reported it had allocated $8,000 to buy new instruments, $8,000 for travel expense and $25,000 for a new bus.
But when Beans offered a different breakdown of the expenses this week, HUD and local officials began questioning the results of the original HUD investigation.
"Each week some new revelation comes up, which raises some real strong ethical questions about how the Housing Authority is being run," said Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden (D-Ward 5).
Officials at other housing authorities in the region said the proportion of funds spent by the Annapolis Housing Authority on promotional activities appears unusually high.
For example, the Richmond Housing Authority, which controls about 4,400 units and receives $6.3 million annually from HUD, allocates $55,000 to "tenant services," such as publication of newsletters and summer youth games, according to an authority spokeswoman.
The Annapolis Housing Authority receives about $3 million annually in operating funds from HUD and controls 1,003 units for about 5,000 residents.