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The Washington Blade
HAA boss defends $400k for event: Watts: Funds went for 'multi-sectorial approach'
Lou Chibbaro Jr.
March 4, 2005
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 years.

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."