Metro taxpayers might pick up tab for parenthood program - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Metro taxpayers might pick up tab for parenthood program

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Metro taxpayers may be on the hook for thousands of dollars after the federal government questioned how the Metro Health Department spent money from a federal grant.

The program is called "Responsible Fatherhood," and it's intended to teach men to become better fathers.

Federal auditors suspended the program in September for what they called "poor performance." Metro was to receive $4.8 million for the three-year program.

Only 130 men completed the parenting classes in its first two years, meaning the program cost about $24,000 per dad.

Federal auditors questioned expenditures that didn't meet the guidelines of the program. Among the questioned expenses: $2,000 was billed for lost kayaks after teen fathers in the program allowed their kayaks to float away; $29,000 was spent on a new gym floor at a center where the fathers met for classes; and $15,000 went to a kitchen remodeling job that was never finished.

Bill Hance, chairman of the Metro Board of Health, said the board learned of the questioned costs at its September board meeting.

"I understand the federal people were horrified," Hance said.

The responsible parenting classes were taught in several locations around the city. The Martha O'Bryan Center hosted a 12-week program where fathers could learn things like financial management and building a healthy marriage. Classes were also held at the McGruder Family Center, which is run by the not-for-profit Mathew Walker Health Center.

The Metro Health Department requested the federal government pay $15,000 so the McGruder Family Center could upgrade its kitchen facilities.

Channel 4 News asked Hance what a kitchen remodeling project has to do with a responsible fatherhood program.

"I don't have a clue. I promise you. I just don't know," Hance said.

Auditors also questioned why federal taxpayers should reimburse Martha O'Bryan for a new $29,000 gym floor.

"None of that stuff should be in a grant," Hance said.

Channel 4 News asked Dr. Bill Paul, head of the Metro Health Department, why federal money for fatherhood education should pay for a gym floor and kitchen upgrades.

"The dads that we're trying to reach are often not attracted to these kinds of places. They're not easy to keep engaged. So, often times, you're trying to add things that will make your center more attractive and acceptable for dads for programming," Paul said.

Federal auditors questioned why the Metro Health Department told officials at the Martha O'Bryan Center that fatherhood grant money could be used to install a $10,000 alarm system at Martha O'Bryan.

Metro's justification is that some fathers in the program have criminal records and the alarm system is to isolate them from children attending the Martha O'Bryan daycare center.

Federal auditors also questioned a trip to Nashville Shores for teen fathers, which cost more than $1,000; a $210 bowling trip; $5,000 for van rentals and gasoline for outings; and $2,000 for two kayaks and a canoe that floated away during a paddling trip on the Stones River.

The expenses don't concern the feds nearly as much as the fact that so few men graduated from the program. In two years, there were 130 graduates, equating to about $24,000 per dad.

"It's a lot of money to be spending without much happening," Hance said.

"I'm always concerned that we get the biggest impact for the dollar, and this has been a grant that's been expensive, per dad served. The other side, though, is that when things go wrong, and kids grow up without fathers, it becomes an enormous expense for our society," Paul said.

Some of the upgrades and construction was done before it was approved. Now that the federal government says it won't pay, it's up to Metro taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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