December 7, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Amid questions about Hartford's funding of his youth anti-violence program, Andrew Woods, executive Director of Hartford Communities that Care, abruptly resigned last week - then rescinded his resignation Tuesday.
The resignation came only days after the city council voted to give his group $150,000 to cover a shortfall in funds for this year and to continue funding his Youth Engagement Anti-Violence Intervention Initiative into next year. The money is in addition to $250,000 that the council agreed to pay in January.
Woods, a political ally of Mayor Eddie A. Perez and a leader in the city's Democratic Party, has described the program as a `round-the-clock, street-level youth intervention service. Perez and Woods say the program stands out in its potential for success in preventing violent incidents among city youth.
"Ask [other] programs what time they shut their doors," Woods said, recently. "When our kids leave school - or even leave an after-school program - you still have that peak hour between then and midnight when a lot of stuff happens."
"No other organization goes out late at night at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, accepts calls at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning," he said.
But councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who voted against the funding at a recent council meeting, questioned why one group should receive hundreds of thousands in city money, with little oversight and no competition.
With so many other groups offering services, why should one group get so much, he asked.
"There's the smell test," Kennedy said. "That's not something I wanted to associate myself with. People are going to say 'He's doing good work, but did he get the money because of his political connection?'"
The council approved the spending Nov. 28, but four days later Woods resigned as executive director.
Woods sent a letter to his group's advisory board, which board chairman Frederick E. Smith declined to release Tuesday. In it, Smith said, Woods told the board that he felt "conflicted" trying to juggle his three main duties as executive director: administrative work, the burden of looking for funding and the more challenging role of working one-on-one with local teens, which Smith said is "a personal passion for him."
The board declined Woods' resignation and in a letter dated Tuesday promised him continued support and guidance.
Woods did not return telephone calls Tuesday, but last week he and Perez defended the group's reliance on city money and said Woods' community connections - not his political ones - make him the best person for the task. Woods has been a substance abuse counselor at Fox Middle School since 1998.
Perez said many neighborhood groups get annual grants to conduct programs of their choosing. But he said he specifically asked Hartford Communities That Care to take on a mission, and the city needs to fund that mandate.
"This is not like, 'We're going to do a program and advertise it," Perez said. "It's about 'Go out and find Mr. Jones who we know got suspended because he had a weapon.'"
Woods said the $250,000 given to the group in January was mainly intended for the administrative costs of setting up a not-for profit group. But he said, the money was spent heavily on programming instead, creating the shortfall.
According to documents that Communities That Care filed with the council, Woods' annual salary is budgeted at $55,000 for 2005, and $62,000 for 2006. According to those documents, it appears he was paid less in 2005 because he did not begin drawing a salary until March.
Woods' program - working with the mayor's office - identified 110 youth between 14 and 24 as being "at risk" for violence. They included students who have poor attendance records, are at least two grades behind their age group, have dropped out of school or are incarcerated on drug or weapons charges.
The program is a combination of out-of-city retreats, classes in conflict negotiation, academic tutoring, youth employment and on-the-street engagement - including what Woods described as his personal ability to defuse the rumors and the finger-pointing that often lead to shootings.