Why no help for PAL director?

July 02, 2003

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

Before it became his paying gig, Officer Brett McKoy spent five years working as the volunteer co-director of the Police Athletic League, an organization he co-founded with Guy McCartney, a Department of Natural Resources officer.

McKoy, then with the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, worked his shift hours, then spent what time he could building up the PAL.

The Community Partnership for Families and Children was impressed enough in October 2002 to give PAL a five-year grant that included $19,000 for equipment and supplies and $40,000 a year for the life of the grant for McKoy's salary.


In the middle of last month, The Herald-Mail reported that PAL would open its new gym and aerobic workout area on June 30, with much of the equipment purchased by TR Huston Inc., and the rest bought with grant funds from the aforementioned Community Partnership.

But much of the program is in jeopardy now because the Community Partnership pulled the PAL grant, which means instead of working with local youth, McKoy will go back to working the streets as a police officer.

The problem was apparently that under the terms of the grant, PAL was supposed to provide after-school homework sessions for 20 to 30 students. Either that wasn't getting done, or at least not to the satisfaction of Community Partnership's staff.

Officer McKoy told me he was surprised by the loss of the grant because Community Partnership officials had told him in April they were submitting paperwork to have his position funded for another year.

McKoy said he felt the relationship between the two agencies began to sour when he was off for a week in April for surgery, forcing the curtailing of PAL center hours at Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park.

Then in May, hours were cut back again when McKoy had to take his turn as a firearms instructor at the police academy. That meant the center was open only 13 of the 21 days it was scheduled to operate.

Now it seems obvious that if you have made a commitment to keep a facility open and a program operating, if you can't be there, you've got to make other arrangements to staff the place.

But it's also obvious that it takes some time to transition from running a program on a volunteer basis - where everyone is happy with anything you do because you're giving your time for free - to a grant-funding situation.

In the latter, the funding agencies tend to want all the loose ends tied up and to make sure the money is well-spent. But given McKoy's previous commitment of free time, wouldn't it have made sense to give him a heads-up on what PAL was not doing right? Wouldn't the years he'd already volunteered have justified someone mentoring him a little bit, if that's what was needed?

He says that didn't happen. The most important question is not why they didn't, but why, given Community Partnership's reaction, would anyone else put in so much of their own time to build a group like PAL?

In the last presidential election, I voted for George W. Bush because I believed that Al Gore would say or do anything - tell any lie or abandon any position - to become president.

But the president I voted for is troubling me, and not just because the party that supported a balanced budget has now embraced deficits just like the Democrats they used to deride as tax-and-spend politicians.

Let me set aside, for a moment, my concern about the tax cuts and the weapons of mass destruction that can't be found and the saber-rattling the U.S. is doing with Iran. Forget for a moment that it becomes more obvious each day that there was no plan for post-war Iraq that didn't depend on U.S. troops being viewed as benevolent liberators instead of sniper targets.

No, my key concern is that the president has not asked Americans to sacrifice anything, except perhaps some time at the airport security checkpoints.

The president has not asked Americans to contribute to the rebuilding of Afghanistan or Iraq, even though in the long term, the good will that would produce would be priceless.

And how about the home folks who are needy? Has the president asked corporations to belay the next round of layoffs, either out of compassion or to give the economy a boost? Not that I'm aware.

The prevailing sentiment seems to be that Americans need not trouble themselves about their fellow citizens, or deny themselves anything they desire, whether it's a new round of credit debt or an enormous SUV.

As I said, I voted for George W. Bush. But that doesn't mean I can't hope that he will do more leading than he's done so far, by asking all of us to do more than we've done to date to make this world and America a better place.

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