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Council members scrap over African-American youth center funding

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

One day after staff recommended cutting off funding in next year’s budget for nearly half of the social service agencies currently contracted with the city, a disagreement among Council members about funding for an African-American youth center came to a head. At yesterday’s work session Council members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole questioned the wisdom of the city having “parallel processes” for social service funding.


Council members Randi Shade and Chris Riley, along with Mayor Lee Leffingwell, first presented the funding proposal for the African-American Youth Resource Center to their Council colleagues at their meeting two weeks ago. At that meeting, Cole and Spelman questioned the accelerated timeline of the proposal (the item goes before Council tomorrow), and Spelman wondered why the proposal had not been vetted via a competitive process, as most social service proposals are. (See In Fact Daily, April 29, 2011)


Under the terms of the proposal, the city would provide $150,000 in FY2012 and $60,000 per year for the next two fiscal years after that. That money would come from the Sustainability Fund’s operating budget.


At yesterday’s meeting, Spelman once again raised concern that the funding proposal was under consideration despite not having gone through the city’s new social service proposal RFP process, a process that resulted in staff recommendations Monday to cut funding for 19 organizations currently receiving city money.


“Half of the money groups are asking for we will not be able to fund,” Spelman said, referring to the $28 million in total requested funding staff considered under the RFP. “It looks like we’re establishing two processes here, one process that requires very detailed information about the nature of the organization, budget, evaluation processes … and a parallel process that appears to be requiring a lot less information and that looks like it might be perceived as a highly political process.”


Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald responded by saying that the city had created the African-American Quality of Life Commission to bring such proposals to the forefront and that certain social services can be funded through different city processes.


“It was recognized then that though we had social services areas, we had a lot of things … that the city was doing (that weren’t) fitting some of the specific needs that needed to be addressed to maintain and enhance what we wanted to focus on in regard to the African-American community,” said McDonald.


The quality of life commission has twice voted unanimously in favor of the youth center’s funding proposal.


Shade agreed with McDonald’s argument, pointing out that the city currently has $3.9 million worth of projects that could be classified as social service contracts – such as elderly services, child care services, rental assistance – that are funded through city agencies rather than through social service RFPs.


“It’s a red herring because of whatever issues (Spelman and Cole) might have with this particular proposal,” Shade told In Fact Daily after the meeting. She said that city departments often fund what are considered social services as part of larger projects. “That’s part of the opportunistic approach we take for doing things in support of the goals that we’ve passed from one week to the next,” she said. “All the departments are doing things to support sustainability, for example.


“This (youth center) is part of the African-American Quality of Life initiative because it has social service aspects to it; it has education aspects to it.”


But Cole said that by funding this project via Council determination rather than the established RFP process, Council will be both putting youth center administrators in an awkward position and putting other social service agencies that do positive work in the African-American community at a disadvantage.


“How many African-Americans does Capital IDEA serve?” Cole asked Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras. “How many does Salvation Army serve?” Both of those charitable groups saw their funding cut entirely in the hypothetical budget presented by staff on Monday.


“They will be walking the halls constantly with their board members and talking about what they did to get funding from the city, and I don’t want you to be surprised if they are criticizing what you did,” Cole warned youth center administrator Michael Lofton. “We’re not doing you any favors if we take you through a different process. One thing we know for sure is that African-American organizations receive a deeper level of scrutiny.”


Some City Hall observers have questioned the timing of the funding resolution. They wonder if co-sponsors Shade and Riley – both of whom voted against settling with the family of shooting victim Nathaniel Sanders last year and both of whom are up for re-election this Saturday, two days after Council considers the resolution –are sponsoring the resolution now to curry favor with African-American voters.


But Spelman said his concerns about the politicization of the issue only have to do with the process itself. After the meeting he told In Fact Daily, “To make one deal on a handshake and to make another only after requiring a 25-page proposal is inherently inequitable. If we establish a process like this, there will come a point where we’re going to make a deal with a handshake, which is not justifiable, and we just shouldn’t go down that road.


“By establishing a precedent to do things like this, we’re asking for political decisions to be made in the future. We shouldn’t be making decisions on a political basis on an issue that will have so much impact on the city.”

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