Baltimore officials cancelled a $500,000 federal grant Wednesday for the Pride Center of Maryland, the state’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources to the LGBTQ community.

The termination, which passed the city’s five-member spending board Wednesday with four votes in favor, came at the recommendation of Mayor Brandon Scott’s pandemic aid office, which is tasked with overseeing the $641 million windfall Baltimore received in federal pandemic relief. Council President Nick Mosby, a member on the board, has routinely cast protest votes against the Scott’s pandemic aid spending and abstained from Wednesday’s vote on the Pride Center of Maryland award.

Shamiah Kerney, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs, told the spending board that the federal government has set a high bar for recipients of its pandemic aid and stressed that her team has adhered to robust monitoring and reporting requirements.

“I find no pleasure in bringing this matter to the board in such a public forum,” Kerney said. But while she said her office’s decision has been called “unjust” and “petty,” the move was in fact taken “to demonstrate accountability and integrity.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Office of Recovery Programs had provided the first of $250,000 batch payments to the Pride Center, Kerney said. The second installment has been halted, and Kerney said her office is looking into whether it should claw back $6,000 in remaining funds from the original payment.

Kerney’s office first notified the Pride Center of Maryland on March 8 that it would seek termination of the grant, aimed at providing violence prevention services to the LGBTQ community, after it said the nonprofit failed to meet the requirements her office has laid out in a January letter notifying the organization it was in default of its compliance standards. Among the violations cited, Kerney’s January letter stated that the Pride Center had repeatedly missed deadlines and failed to provide sufficient data on its services and beneficiaries.

The $500,000 award is one of several American Rescue Plan Act grants the Pride Center has received from different city agencies, and the January default letter stated the nonprofit had also failed to provide evidence demonstrating that it was not duplicating services with its different awards.

Pride Center executive director Cleo Manago called on the Board of Estimates to conduct its own investigation into reporting issues before terminating the agreement. While Manago admitted that data his organization initially submitted to the Office of Recovery Programs was not up to standard, calling it “embarrassing,” he argued that the Pride Center had taken appropriate steps to address the issue. The recovery office’s claims that the Pride Center had duplicated services under separate American Rescue Plan Act grants from the city had no validity, he said.

At a news conference after the meeting, Scott said he takes the responsibility of funds entrusted to the city by the federal government “very seriously” and knows Manago does as well.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The mayor said it was unfortunate that certain requirements were not met for this grant, but he said the city intends to continue to support the Pride Center in other partnerships.

In addition to the $500,000 the Pride Center of Maryland received in a direct award from the Office of Recovery Programs, the organization was awarded $270,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, which has already expired, and $510,000 through the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which runs through December.

The Pride Center is also responsible for producing Baltimore Pride Month activities, and Manago has said termination of the grant will not affect its annual parade festivities.

Mosby told Manago that severing a grant can come with “tremendous amount of reputational damage,” stressing the board takes any decision to terminate an agreement with a nonprofit seriously.

At one point, the pandemic aid office offered the opportunity for both sides to mutually part ways without publicly escalating the matter, Kerney told the board, but the Pride Center did not accept the offer.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Manago testified that he couldn’t recall receiving such an offer from Kerney, and said the reason he was appearing before the board was to defend his organization’s reputation and capabilities. “I’ve been administering federal grants for 30 years,” Manago said, adding that he believes “some things are relatively new for this office.”

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 found discrepancies in the number of people the center supported and was still unable to validate numerous reporting requirements.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A press release that first announced the Pride Center’s American Rescue Plan Act award in July of 2022 stated that the organization would receive a higher amount, $1.3 million. Manago told the Board of Estimates Wednesday that upon learning this news, his organization began hiring staff and implementing new training steps to ensure they were prepared for the new responsibility and were surprised when they later got notice from Kerney that they would be receiving just $500,000.

But that $1.3 million noted in that original press release was a mistake, Kerney told the spending board. Officials had internally determined that they would grant $500,000 to the Pride Center, and staff with the nonprofit later hiked their funding request in the city’s online portal, resulting in the higher-than-budgeted announcement. Officials later caught the change and corrected the error, Kerney said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

In a statement after the meeting, Manago said it was “disappointed” in the the spending board decision but called it “a teachable moment.”

“Our takeaway is that we need to continue improving our processes so that we can do even more — bringing awareness, testing, support and providing education and resources to the LGBTQ+ community,” he said.

Reporter John-John Williams contributed to this story.