A city agency managing tens of millions in pandemic relief money has recommended terminating a $500,000 grant to the state’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources to the LGBTQ community, Pride Center of Maryland.

The grant, which would affect programming to address violence within the LGBTQ community, helps the center provide resources to hundreds of people, according to its executive director, Cleo Manago.

The grant, part of the city’s $651 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation, comes with many strings attached, including rigorous compliance and reporting requirements. The Pride Center of Maryland failed to meet those requirements, and its reports were insufficient, according to the city office overseeing the grants.

A city spending board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to terminate the contract.

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Manago said he has already taken corrective actions to address “bad data” that should not have ever been submitted to the city.

“I agreed the report was inadequate, not up to par, problematic, and I apologized profusely,” Manago said. “I was in the process of developing a corrective action plan.”

Mayor Brandon Scott and Shamiah Kerney, who leads the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs, which oversees the American Rescue Plan Act money, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Officials with the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs informed the Pride Center on March 8 that it would seek termination of the award. Before that, in January, the organization received a letter from Kerney warning that the nonprofit was in default of its agreement with the city.

According to Kerney’s letter, the Pride Center failed to provide required metrics about its programming — such as demographic information on the people it served, specifics on the number of trainings it had held and number of participants it had supported — in time for six different deadlines between April and November of 2023. While the Pride Center eventually submitted reports to the recovery office addressing the reporting requirements, Kerney’s letter said the compliance team was still unable to validate four reporting requirements.

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The Pride Center failed to submit adequate evidence backing up the accuracy of its data, the letter alleged, and “repeatedly failed” to provide satisfactory information in a timely manner. The recovery office gave the Pride Center until Dec. 13 to submit a “corrective action plan” outlining the steps it would take to get into compliance.

Additionally, the pandemic aid director said the Pride Center had failed to justify that it was not duplicating services with its $500,000 grant by repeating work covered by grants with other city agencies. The Pride Center has also received $510,000 from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, according to a February progress report the recover office submitted to City Council, and Kerney’s letter notes additional funding from the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, all from Baltimore’s $641 million pot of pandemic relief.

The letter sent on Jan. 19 informed Manago that the Pride Center had 30 days to reconcile its violations or else see its contract terminated immediately.

In recent months, Manago said he has removed the employee responsible for submitting the erroneous report to Kerney’s office. He has also hired a data manager.

Manago, who estimates he has received and overseen 40 grants in his career, said he has never had one terminated.

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“Traditionally, termination of a grant is not given for these reasons,” he said. “Bottom line is it’s overkill. It’s an overreaction. You typically cut off funds for a lack of performance and there is severe mismanagement and things like that. I’ve never experienced this in my career.”

Manago said he intends to defend the work of the center at Wednesday’s vote.

Manago said that the termination is about more than inaccurate reporting. He said that a group he declined to name has encouraged “bias” against the Pride Center and thus influenced the recovery office’s actions.

“There is some dishonesty going on here. It has nothing to do with finance,” he said. “There is a certain agenda. There is a certain type of people who have become quite influential on LGBTQ issues in Baltimore. ... We’re in the firing line of this agenda.”

He added that he doesn’t believe Scott or Kerney are aware of this bias.

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Manago said the termination of the grant will not affect the center — or coming Pride Month festivities — at all.

“The only reason I am addressing the [Board of Estimates] is to address what went down. This does not affect the PCOM in any financial way. It’s unfortunate, unjust and petty,” he said.

If needed, Manago said, the organization will tap into its reserves and lean on its other resources to ensure that the several hundred people affected by the grant will continue to be assisted.

Manago said he inherited an organization that was on the brink of closing when he took over the role of leading the center in 2020. Since then, he has grown the staff from three to 37 employees with an annual operating budget of $3.1 million.

The center, which is also responsible for producing Baltimore Pride Month activities, has seen growth there as well — expanding its footprint to multiple neighborhoods. The center expects to exceed 100,000 attendees this year.

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Last month, the center announced that a 50-person committee had decided to move part of the festivities back into the heart of Mount Vernon to accommodate growing attendance.

The weekend festivities will begin on Friday, June 14, and continue with a parade and block party at Charles Street and North Avenue on Saturday, June 15. Pride in the Park will be held Sunday, June 16, in Druid Hill Park.

The recovery office team has conducted its own assessments of the risk that any of its awardees run afoul of compliance standards. According to dozens of internal risk evaluations obtained last year by The Baltimore Banner, roughly 38% of the city’s assessed grant recipients were marked as “Medium/High Risk” for violating federal compliance rules, including most of the agencies with the largest allotments of the city’s millions.

The Pride Center of Maryland was among the awardees that the Office of Recovery Programs tagged with the “Medium/High Risk” designation.

The dust-up with the Pride Center of Maryland is not the first time the city has alleged that one of its American Rescue Plan Act awardees was out of line. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General earlier this year, a nonprofit awarded funding through a pandemic aid-financed community cleaning initiative, Clean Corps, misused $130,000 in its grant funding by using it to cover costs for a separate contract with the Department of Public Works.

Officials with the recovery office and Department of Planning recognized the issue and moved to terminate the city’s contract with the nonprofit, the inspector general report notes, while the February report notes that the city has been attempting to claw back the funds.

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