Washington Blade - March 4, 2005
D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration director Lydia Watts this week
defended her decision to spend more than $400,000 to produce and
videotape HAA sponsored events associated with the city's Word
AIDS Day last December.
Speaking at Mayor's Anthony Williams' weekly news conference on
March 2, Watts said HAA would use the tapes and a series of
public service announcements that HAA purchased for broadcast on
radio and television to educate women and girls on how to avoid
contracting the AIDS virus.
Watts' explanation of her decision to spend more than $438,000 on
activities associated with a World AIDS Day town hall meeting and
reception came after gay D.C. Councilmember David Catania
(I-At-large) called the expenditure an "indefensible" mistake.
Catania and members of the Council's Committee on Health, which
Catania chairs, were expected to question Watts about the
spending associated with World AIDS Day at a hearing on March 3
and at a follow-up hearing on March 17.
Watts' discussion of the World AIDS Day expenses at the mayor's
news conference marked the first public explanation by HAA of the
issue since the Washington Blade reported on the videotaping
expenses on Feb. 25. Watts and Department of Health spokesperson
Leila Abrar did not return repeated calls from the Blade seeking
comment on the issue.
In her remarks at the news conference, Watts said audio and
videotapes of a Dec. 1 town hall meeting at the City Museum on
the subject of women and AIDS would be used over the next two
years to educate women and teenage girls on ways to prevent the
spread of the deadly disease. Watts noted that women have become
one of the highest risk groups for HIV in D.C.
Williams said the city is committed to "invest" in HIV prevention
programs, but added that he would closely monitor the media
effort that HAA underwrote to see if it yields a proper "return."
"This was a project that was well thought out, well planned and
well executed," Watts said. "It went through all of our open bid
processes. It met legal sufficiency," she said. "There was no
anti-deficiency in our aspects. And it was an LSDBE [Local,
Small, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise]. That's the first
important thing that we have to put on the table."
Watts said more than 300 people attended the town hall meeting,
where they heard women who are HIV infected tell "their stories
about the issue."
Added Watts, "Our goal, our plan was to create a multi-factorial
approach so that we would have planning and educational tools
that would last us up to two years."
Video part of two-year plan
Watts said the tapes made from the meeting along with the public
service announcements can be used "to talk about HIV disease in
churches, in mosques, in temples, in schools, in malls, on the
buses, on the trains, and in beauty shops - wherever women
congregate so that we can begin to talk about the issue."
Documents released by the D.C. Office of Contracting &
Procurement state that HAA issued a $409,200 contract with the
local video production company SRB Productions, Inc., to produce
the videos as well as DVDs and an Internet streaming broadcast of
the town hall event. Web streaming refers to a showing of an
event over the Internet.
Sheila Brooks, founder and president of SRB Productions, said
last week that the $409,000 contract included only the production
of the videos, DVDs, and public service announcements, which were
30 seconds and 60 seconds each. Brooks said the contract included
costs for airing the PSAs on television and radio only from a
period shortly before World AIDS Day up until the Dec. 1 World
AIDS Day events.
A spokesperson for HAA could not be reached before Blade deadline
this week to determine whether additional costs would be incurred
to broadcast the PSA and show the videotapes over the next two
Gay D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is a member of
the Council's Committee on Health, said studies have shown that
videos used for AIDS prevention are less effective than in-person
interaction between AIDS educators and members of groups at risk
for the disease.
"If you had all the money that you need, videos could be one
element of prevention," said Graham, the former executive
director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic. "But this comes at a time
when they are cutting prevention programs. You don't cut programs
in order to make videos."