Yancey grills city over community center changes; cost savings called key

Daphne Griffin, the city’s chief of Human Services, listened during Tuesday’s hearing. Photo by Gal Tziperman LotanDaphne Griffin, the city’s chief of Human Services, listened during Tuesday’s hearing. Photo by Gal Tziperman Lotan

City Councillor Charles Yancey tangled with Menino administration officials this week over the withdrawal of staffers from eight community centers, pressing them on capital funding and the transfer of the centers to local non-profits.

“I do have a problem with the process,” Yancey said at a lightly attended City Council committee hearing on Tuesday.

The Marshall community center in Dorchester and the Mattahunt community center in Mattapan are among the eight that the Boston Centers for Youth and Families decided to withdraw staff from last year in a bid to save costs and focus on programs instead of buildings. The other six facilities include the Agassiz and English in Jamaica Plain, the Johnson Community Center in Roxbury, the Walsh center in South Boston, the West Roxbury Community Center, and the Stillman Tennis Center in Charlestown.

Thirty-eight community centers remain scattered throughout the city, a system that is one of the largest in the country, administration officials said.

Yancey, the chair of the City Council’s Post Audit and Oversight Committee, has emerged as a strident critic of the Menino administration’s move, which officials say is helping the agency save $615,390.

Daphne Griffin, the newly appointed chief of human services in Mayor Thomas Menino’s cabinet, is retaining her job as executive director of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families but taking a single salary, saving the city $100,000. The agency has a $21.7 million budget and is projected to have a $100,000 surplus heading into fiscal year 2012.

Griffin and the agency’s budget director defended the staff moves, saying that before the transfers to nonprofits occurred, community meetings were held and stakeholders were approached. Wheelock College is the lead partner at the Mattahunt, while at the Marshall the after school program G.R.A.S.P. is looking to expand as the Boston Public School system establishes a family resource center.

The nonprofits now in charge of some of the community centers are at varying levels of starting-up and expanding capacity, agency officials said. They added that the city’s capital funding plans remain flexible and subject to change.

Yancey, whose district includes Mattapan and parts of Dorchester, was the only city councillor to appear at the committee’s hearing to review the Boston Centers for Youth and Families’ fiscal 2011 budget.
“It’s very, very clear to me based on your announcements last year, in terms of staffing, the city’s divesting itself from the Mattahunt and other facilities,” Yancey said. But he pointed to about $5 million in renovations scheduled for the Mattahunt in the city’s five year capital spending plan. “How do you rationalize that?” he said.

Noah Stockman, BCYF director of administration and finance, said the Mattahunt remains in the five-year capital plan, which includes “shifting priorities.”

“It remains in the capital plan as of now,” Stockman said.

Yancey said the community remained frustrated, adding, “And now as I look at the capital budget, I see we still have city capital going into it, basically supporting the activities of private nonprofits.”

Stockman said the community will still have access to the centers and the city still owns the buildings.
“These are public facilities we don’t want to go into decay,” he said.

Yancey also criticized the agency for not going through a request for proposals (RFP) process for nonprofits taking over the centers, with the exception of Charlestown’s Stillman Center.

Griffin said the agency promoted possible takeovers of community centers at local community meetings.

“Interested parties were asked to step forward,” she said.

The Stillman Center is a unique facility she said, and the Charlestown Against Drugs program was picked because it was already providing services to the neighborhood and was familiar with the facility.

There wasn’t an RFP process for the Mattahunt because Wheelock College had expressed an interest in becoming a lead partner, she added, and the college houses a Sport-Based Institute for Youth Development.

A community center planning community is working with Wheelock to establish what type of programming should be available at the Mattahunt. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Wheelock College.