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Frustrations among Office of Violence Prevention funding recipients in Milwaukee

New emails reveal the final days of Arnitta Holliman's tenure as the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention.
Arnitta Holliman, office of violence prevention
Posted at 6:26 PM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 19:26:43-04

MILWAUKEE — New emails reveal the final days of Arnitta Holliman's tenure as the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP).

Holliman's last day on the job was Aug. 3, but a month earlier she received an invitation to attend an event in Washington D.C. celebrating the passage of the Bi-Partisan Safer Community Act. The event was July 11.

"I, of course, had made an assumption that [The Mayor's Office] would support me attending," Holliman said.

Holliman forwarded her invitation to Mayor Cavalier Johnson's Office, writing "I look forward to the opportunity to attend."

Less than 30 minutes later, Johnson's Chief of Staff, Jim Bohl responded, telling Holliman Mayor Johnson was also invited and would "exclusively be representing the city at this due to cost constraints, etc. Please relay regrets to the White House for yourself."

Holliman volunteered to take the day off and attend as a guest, along with several other colleagues at no cost to the city. Bohl responded, questioning Holliman's urgency to attend but nonetheless, gave her the go-ahead. He said it was, "her choice to make as long as she attended on her own dime and the health department agreed."

"This is the most significant gun legislation that we've seen in the last 30 years," Holliman said. "So this act was extremely important"

However, Holliman did not attend 'on her own dime.' The I-Team learned a group, called Uniting Garden Homes Inc. (UGHI), covered the expenses for Holliman's trip. UGHI is a local non-profit focusing on impacting violence in neighborhoods.

Holliman sent an email to the Executive Board of UGHI on July 7, thanking the group for "agreeing to process the sponsored travel to D.C. and Baltimore."

Co-Executive Director Desilynn Smith provided the I-Team receipts related to the trip, but tells us UGHI thought the money would be reimbursed. An email discussing the 'sponsored travel', showed the trip totaled $3,723.32 although Smith says she provided cash for food and a car rental which bumped the total to just over $4,000.

When asked if this was the appropriate way to go about funding for the trip, Holliman said, "I think that what's important is that we were there for the important work that was happening. Everything was done on the up and up. Everything was funded. There was absolutely no cost to the city and it was absolutely a working trip."

Smith says she doesn't regret the decision to 'process the sponsored travel,' because she says "it was for a good cause." However, UGHI is still waiting for reimbursement. She also says UGHI is owed money for running a summer initiative to prevent violence.

Because of that, UGHI has laid off an employee and had to let go two part time employees and others aren't being paid.

"We have the full summer initiative team that has not been paid either," Smith said. "Thank god for the people that are on those teams. I thank them so much because a lot of them are hanging in there."

Smith's feelings aren't isolated. The Milwaukee Health Department's Budget and Administration Manager emailed the Mayor's Office last month saying, "There are a number of partners who were promised funds... for work done and we should ensure they get paid."

The I-Team also contacted a dozen groups who have received funding from OVP in the past. Most were positive about their interactions with OVP but a couple others, who wished to remain anonymous, tell us their requests for resources have gone unanswered.

"We feel like an afterthought," Smith said. "To not have the support of the people who can support us in that area is disheartening."

A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office tells the I-Team, the City provided some $80,000 to UGHI to help fill the hole in funding for the summer initiative and the City is working on reimbursing UGHI for the D.C. trip. Something they say, they are committed to making right.

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