PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former House Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallison and a member of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s cabinet discussed a nonprofit with close ties to Gallison at two meetings over the same period the group received state grants worth about $241,000, Target 12 has confirmed.
The nonprofit in question is Man Up Inc., which documents show has been financially and organizationally intertwined with Alternative Education Programming Inc., another taxpayer-funded nonprofit where Gallison has worked for years. DLT awarded Man Up a roughly $91,000 grant through the Governor’s Workforce Board last June and then a $150,000 grant from the Real Jobs Rhode Island program last November.
Both grants were suspended pending an audit on Thursday following Gallison’s resignation two days earlier, as the 64-year-old Bristol Democrat faces a multi-agency law-enforcement probe. Officials said they were not aware of any wrongdoing related to the grants. Man Up’s CEO said Friday she cannot comment until the audit is complete.
Mike Healey, a spokesman for the R.I. Department of Labor and Training (DLT), confirmed Friday that DLT Director Scott Jensen discussed Man Up with Gallison at “an introductory meeting” in Gallison’s State House office sometime after Jensen arrived in Rhode Island in early 2015.
“Chairman Gallison mentioned Man Up as a group doing good work but he did not explicitly ask for funding for Man Up,” Healey told Target 12 in an email late Friday afternoon. As the powerful House Finance chairman, Gallison had oversight of the entire stage budget at the time, including DLT’s.
Healey said Jensen again discussed Man Up with Gallison at a meeting in September, which was convened to discuss the $91,000 Governor’s Workforce Board grant that had been awarded a few months before. Also on hand were representatives from Man Up and fellow grant recipient the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island (OIC), Healey said.
(Healey also told Target 12 that a representative from the Economic Progress institute attended the September meeting with Gallison. But on Saturday that group’s co-founder, Linda Katz, said Healey was incorrect. “No one from the Economic Progress Institute attended a meeting with Chairman Gallison and Director Jensen about the Man Up funds,” Katz said in an email.)
AEP, the older nonprofit run by Gallison, was not discussed at either meeting, according to Healey. Target 12 first reported Thursday that AEP expected to receive part of the proceeds from Man Up’s $150,000 Real Jobs grant, even though it was not publicly announced as one of the beneficiaries.
Meeting minutes for the Governor’s Workforce Board’s Strategic Investments and Education Committee from June 15 of last year indicate that Man Up and OIC had both applied for funding through the board’s Workforce Innovation Grant program but received scores below the threshold required to receive grant money.
According to the minutes, though, committee members had “raised concerns” at their previous meeting “about proposals that were below the funding line, in particular Man Up and OIC, who have applied the previous two years.”
“The main concern was whether the funding solicitation puts them at a competitive disadvantage because the expectation of applicants is to develop a comprehensive program including occupational skills training, robust employer partners, and provide work experiences and jobs for participants,” the minutes continue. “Man Up and OIC are primarily structured to provide recruitment, assessment, and case management for challenging populations.”
Man Up had requested $115,502 from the program and OIC had requested $199,957, and “most of their budgets are for staff costs,” the committee members were told by Rick Brooks, a former union leader who the head of the Governor’s Workforce Board at the time. (Last month he took a new job at the R.I. Executive Office of Health & Human Services.)
The minutes say Brooks informed the group he had already reached out to Man Up and OIC to suggest an alternative way they could structure their proposals that would allow them to be funded.
Some of the committee members, including Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee, spoke up in favor of finding a way to fund Man Up and OIC, according to the minutes. Others voiced at least some caution, including Hope Global CEO Cheryl Merchant and Center for Southeast Asians executive director Channavy Chhay.
“Chhay stressed the importance of following the policy and procedures that have been previously put in place and spoke about the difficulty for smaller organizations with limited resources to develop programs and write to [sic] RFPs that require the establishment of robust partnerships and comprehensive training outlines,” the meeting minutes say.
Nevertheless, the committee voted unanimously to approve funding for Man Up and OIC, and the full board voted to approve it the following week. However, the minutes for the full board’s meeting never explicitly mention that the funds would go to Man Up and OIC, saying only that they would be used “to formalize and strengthen partnerships between Workforce Innovation Grant recipients and community-based organizations.”
Nee and Chhay did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Brooks was not made available by state officials, who said he was traveling. Jensen was also not available for an interview, Healey said.
Asked about her comments in the meeting minutes, which suggested Man Up and OIC would need additional help to succeed if funded, Hope Global’s Merchant said in an email: “I do not recall my comments verbatim nor the total conversation. However, I do recall giving encouragement for additional coaching and technical assistance for the program’s success. I believed then, as I do now, that it was good sound advice for the information presented.”
Gallison declined to comment on his situation when confronted at his home Tuesday by Target 12, and his lawyer said he could not discuss the case in any detail. Law-enforcement officials have declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Gallison informed him the probe relates to the ex-lawmaker’s personal or business finances.
Tim White contributed to this report.
This story has been updated and expanded.