By Rachel O’Brien
Deputy Policy Editor, OpenTheBooks.com
A large nonprofit organization that left other Baltimore projects and organizations in “hopeless disarray” financially during 2020 and 2021, was later paid almost $400,000 by the City of Baltimore for unspecified services.
The city schools in Baltimore also paid Strong City Baltimore nearly $400,000 over the same time period. Payments were for “community schools coordinator” and other services.
However, Strong City Baltimore is not in compliance with the Maryland Solicitation Act because it hasn’t submitted information necessary to maintain its registration.
Without being registered, the organization is prohibited from soliciting charitable donations.
The organization’s registration hasn’t been current since May 15, 2020, and it owes $325 in late fees, according to the Maryland Secretary of State’s office, which oversees charity registrations. The organization previously paid a late fee of $75 in 2007.
Strong City Baltimore runs an adult learning center, provides programming in a community center, an afterschool program and summer camp for children, among other things.
These community programs are important and helpful for the mostly Black children that participate in them.
But Strong City Baltimore’s recent history as an irresponsible fiscal sponsor while managing $14 million in assets for 150 smaller organizations makes it a questionable choice to steward almost $400,000 of taxpayer money.
The 2021 vendor checkbook for the City of Baltimore shows Strong City Baltimore being paid $345,067 in 16 payments, and spending records from the Baltimore Dept. of General Services shows Strong City Baltimore collecting another $47,528 in February 2022, totaling $392,595.
OpenTheBooks.com obtained both records through Maryland Public Information Act requests.
The records don’t specify what the funding was for. Payments ranged from $1,285 to $61,793 for “other professional services” and “payments/subcontractors.”
In 2018, Strong City Baltimore “was named one of two preferred fiscal sponsors for grassroots organizations applying for grants through the city’s Children and Youth Fund, which is $12 million set aside from property taxes annually to boost programs for children,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
Strong City Baltimore ostensibly helped smaller and less established organizations by being their fiscal sponsor, a step necessary to obtain grants. In return, Strong City got 10 percent to 15 percent of their revenues.
The Baltimore Sun reported in September 2020 that as Strong City Baltimore was handling the finances, it lost track of money, cut paychecks late, issued delayed financial statements, and more.
Some of Strong City’s partner organizations have ceased operations because they can’t access funds that they say they are owed, The Sun reported.
In May 2021, The Sun reported that Strong City Baltimore was ending its fiscal sponsorship program and the management of $14 million of other organizations’ money.
The organization said at the time that its rapid growth led to problems and put some of the blame for its fiscal woes on the city.
It claimed that a ransomware attack on Baltimore slowed the organization’s work, and delays in releasing funds from the city’s Children and Youth Fund also hampered fiscal progress.
Strong City CEO Reginald Davis said in May 2021 that the organization’s new leadership and new accounting firm hired to untangle its fiscal sponsorship accounting woes put it on the right track.
“We have a clear accounting of our finances,” Davis said, The Sun reported.
But several of the fiscal sponsorship organizations said that wasn’t the case for their finances.
“There’s been no progress. Nothing. Zero communication,” said Kevin Anderson, who ran NEWfit, which provided after school fitness programs and was one of Strong City’s largest managed programs, The Sun reported. “A year later, we’re all in the same boat. They pretty much ghosted us and are gaslighting us or telling flat out lies.”
While Strong City said some organizations owe it money, other charities claim it’s their fiscal sponsor that owes their program money.
Nyah Vanterpool worked for Strong City from 2011 to 2013, and again from 2018 to 2019, before joining Anderson’s NEWfit as deputy director, The Sun reported.
“One of my fears is ... that the organization is moving forward with this sense of plausible deniability, passing the buck and the blame to project leaders rather than being accountable for maladministration,” he said. “They’re accusing organizations of being indebted when they know they mishandled accounts receivable, and they know they misallocated management fees and restricted funds.”
Yet this organization is getting city funds for its programs.
We asked Strong City why it hasn’t filed its charity registration with the State of Maryland, whether it ended up helping the 150 organizations whose money it stewarded and if it has completely ended its fiscal stewardship program.
Both it and the city were asked what the city funds were used for.
Strong City Baltimore didn’t respond to requests for comment by our deadline.
Imani Edwards, spokesperson for the Baltimore Department of General Services, said the agency had no comment.