Wednesday, September 01, 2004

 

Follow the money trail to uncover real MR/DD scandal

Recent articles by Randy Ludlow in Dispatch uncovered a twisted web of conflicts of interest, pay to play schemes, and downright theft involving Director of the Ohio Association of County Boards of MR/DD Charlie Arndt and his private training outfit, Leadership Academy.

But insiders don’t believe that the problems end (or begin) with Arndt and the OACBMR/DD, but believe that Auditor Betty Montgomery’s audit is too narrow and will never uncover how the current MR/DD P & A system (Protection and Advocacy System) is just swimming in self serving loyalties.

Clearly, the publicly funded MR/DD system in Ohio is shot through with many conflicts of interest – from the local county boards of MR/DD all the way up to the Governor. Does Betty really have the guts to take that on?

The money trail goes something like this:
The Ohio Legal Rights Service, Advocacy and Protective Services, Inc. and the Developmental Disabilities Council - all who are perceived to be "advocacy organizations," but only serve at the will of the Governor. These agencies are not independent. They are part of Ohio’s DD State Plan and are funded with federal monies from the DD Act and from state funds.

The Governor designates which agencies within a state will be the Protection and Advocacy System, eligible to receive these funds: The Governor can and has changed the designated P & A Service in Ohio. Prior to the Ohio Legal Rights Service being designated, another agency had that distinction. But that agency did not always agree with the Governor and in fact came out highly critical of the Governor’s policies towards individuals with MRDD. The result: They were out of a job. The Governor then designated OLRS to be the P & A.

In other words, you say what the Administration wants you to say, you keep getting funded. You cross them, you’re out. The point here is that these agencies who depend on this funding are not “independent” and do not function without the full knowledge and blessing of the Administration or at least ODMR/DD. Reporters must pay more attention to this.

For example, the Developmental Disabilities Council is the agency within the state that oversees distribution of federal funds to agencies through grants that compliment the policies of the Council. Conveniently, the agencies that serve on DD Council Board are also the agencies that receive the funds in most cases.

Cases in point: ARC Ohio, OLRS, APSI, People First, etc.

Back to the issue of independence (or lack thereof). The DD Council is overseen by ODMR/DD. Director Ken Ritchey is DD Council Director Dave Zwyer's boss. Insiders say that if Dave does something Ken does not like - or if DD Council funds a project that goes against the Department's and the Governor's agenda - he is in trouble.

So here there are two problems. First, the DD Council awards grants to themselves, and two, they don’t accept proposals that conflict with the Administration’s agenda (get out of state or private institutional care).

Insiders also point to problems at APSI, the guardianship service that the state contracts with. The service is meant to “protect” the rights of retarded/disabled clients when there are no family members available. Many advocates believe the guardianship service should be provided through local Legal Service agencies that are not tied to the ODMRDD or the Executive branch. But this has been opposed by Ritchey, and (no surprise) the DD Council and (even less of a surprise) ARC.

There are other problems with ARC. Insiders say ARC Ohio has received millions of dollars in DD Council Grants over 20 years and probably a million dollars in unbid funds from the Department of MRDD in the past few years since Ritchey has been in charge. ARC is on one side of a very polarized fight among advocates about how to care for clients who are profoundly retarded and require specialized 24-hour care.

Although nominally independent, insiders say most of their funding comes from the interconnected web of county and state sources. The county MR/DD Boards provide monies as does the OACBMR/DD.

Is Ritchey clean in all of this? He was president of the Superintendents of County Boards prior to becoming a director. Was this group doing business with Charlie's for-profit company too?

Ritchey should also be questioned about why he allowed public funds flow to the OACBMR/DD – unbid - for training.

Insiders say much of the training, held during the OACBMRDD Annual Conventions, was held in a way that seemed to ignore the fire funding MR/DD funding problems at the state and county levels. These sessions are described as a little training surrounded by plenty drinking and good food. At one conference, Charlie Arndt served shrimp appetizers, followed by filet mignon. All of this money was public money, in one way or another either by the state funding of the OACBMRDD or the county boards who picked up the registration fees and other expenses to attend the conventions.

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