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Group Handling Columbia Cash in West Harlem Finally Launches Website

By Jeff Mays | January 6, 2012 8:14pm

HARLEM — More than $700,000 and two-and-a-half years after a group formed to handle $150 million in funds from Columbia University's community benefit agreement with West Harlem, it has finally launched a website.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation has come under scrutiny from elected officials and community members for failing to accomplish basic tasks such as launching a website, organizing as a nonprofit or hiring an executive director since its inception in May 2009.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation of the group after DNAinfo reported that it had spent more on consultants than programming.

Columbia has given the group $3.55 million so far, but only $700,000 has been spent. Approximately $400,000 was spent on consultants with ties to former Mayor David Dinkins, both of whom left with six-figure paydays before any of their goals were accomplished.

The simply-designed website lists the group's mission statement and includes a list of board members. It includes bylaws for the new group that the WHLDC will eventually turn its affairs over to, the West Harlem Development Corporation, as well as documents, including its incorporation and tax exempt filings.

The site also lists what the group feels are its accomplishments under a heading titled: "What We're Doing." The list includes the funding of a summer youth jobs program, job fairs and setting aside $3 million for improvements at Grant and Manhattanville Houses.

One item on the list is already out of date. The site says the group expects to announce that it has chosen an executive director by the end of 2011.

Professionals for NonProfits, an employment service for nonprofits, was still advertising late last month for an executive director who would make between $120,000 and $140,000 per year and report to the board of directors.

WHLDC spokeswoman Juanita Scarlett declined to comment about the new website or the ongoing search for an executive director.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer recently called for the WHLDC to dissolve and freeze its assets following what he called an attempt by a board member to "unilaterally' distribute $85,000. Scarlett previously said the money was for improvements at Grant and Manhattanville Houses and was approved by the board while Stringer's staff representative was present.

Vincent Morgan, a candidate for the 15th Congressional District, who called for an audit of the WHLDC this summer, said the website and hiring of a spokesperson represented progress, but that more needed to be done to ensure the money is spent properly.

"Putting up a web page does not address the root of the problem,” said Morgan.

“The group needs to be completely overhauled and an organization built that keeps residents informed and instills confidence that it will provide the proper oversight for the Community Benefits Agreement and allocate the resources included appropriately,” he added.