Emails shed light on grant spending for Metro fatherhood program - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Emails shed light on grant spending for Metro fatherhood program

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Your federal tax dollars are helping pay for a program with a worthy goal: helping men become better fathers. But new information is raising new concerns.

A few months ago, the Channel 4 I-Team reported that the federal government had serious concerns about how the Metro Health Department spent grant money for the fatherhood program.

Now, we've obtained more than 20,000 pages of insider emails and documents from the Metro Health Department that are shedding new light on exactly what your tax dollars paid for.

A July canoe and kayak trip down the Stones River turned into one wild ride for participants in the federally funded New Life program.

According to one supervisor's account, "The group would not listen to instructions. Kids were flipping boats over intentionally, flipping boats of their friends [and] smoking cigarettes."

The program is part of the Metro Health Department, and Robert Taylor is the man in charge.

The Channel 4 I-Team asked how many fathers were on the trip.

"I believe there was one teen on the trip who was a father, but I would have to check to make sure," Taylor said. "Most of the teens were children who had fathers who had participated in the New Life program."

After following up, the health department told Channel 4 that they believed the one teen who was a father had already dropped out of the program before the trip.

It turns out the teens were part of a summer program at Hadley Park, one that featured weekly field trips to places like Nashville Shores and the Wave Pool.

Taylor justifies the summer program as helping fathers because while they're not on field trips, the teens talk about why it's important to postpone fatherhood.

"We want to make sure that anyone who becomes a father is prepared for that situation. So we work with fathers before they have children," Taylor said.

Feedback from the kids who participated in the summer program was positive, but, overall, federal officials raised red flags about how the Metro Health Department has been spending taxpayer dollars.

The multi-year program is funded by a $4.8 million grant.

The 20,000 pages of emails show that Taylor repeatedly pushed to spend grant money to pay for items that Metro's own finance people said were "completely unallowable."

For example, during that wild canoe trip, Metro lost three boats, two kayaks and a canoe, in the swift water.

Taylor wanted to use $2,000 in federal money to pay for the lost canoes and he asked if they could be called "supplies."

The e-mails also showed Taylor was under fire for trying to bill the federal government for a $10,000 alarm system at the Martha O'Bryan Center.

The Martha O'Bryan administration wanted the alarm system because some of the fathers meeting there for the New Life program had criminal records.

Metro finance officers told Taylor it wasn't allowed under the grant, and he wrote them, "We need to find a way to cover the cost in the contract."

The I-Team asked Taylor why he sought approval for the expense after the alarm system had already been installed.

"We were going to make the request and if it's denied, then it's denied," he said.

Federal officials also questioned why grant money was earmarked for a kitchen remodel job that was never finished. Internal emails indicate no one could provide receipts for $21,000 of work that was supposedly done.

The federal government gave the fatherhood program a scathing review.

In unraveling what went wrong, Taylor's former supervisor concluded that he had "authorized contractors to make major purchases without consulting finance."

Still, Taylor defended his actions.

"If you look at overall grant funding, we follow policies and procedures," he said.

Taylor said the work his program does, is needed.

"There are fathers out there that can benefit from this program," he said.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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