Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wrapping up the CDBG debate

As noted earlier, the Athens-Clarke County Commission voted to restore partial funding in the form of $25,000 each to the East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation. Here are some additional thoughts the following morning ...

- While I favor the method behind the compromise and would have indeed supported it, I do think Alice Kinman's recommendation that $25,000 go to each agency was a bit low. Granted my suggestion was only marginally higher at $40,000, but I would have favored seeing more funding returned ... particularly since all funding for Dudley Park was taken out.

- That said, kudos to Kinman for recognizing the backlash - right or wrong - against the funding of Dudley Park and stripping that altogether. The shifting of the bulk of the funding to the ACT ONE program was a smart move and one that should produce results too.

- The whole discussion had a surreal feeling to it in that, namely, those who favored Harry Sims's six-month benchmark plan with half of the funding restored couldn't make a compelling argument aside from the fact that either 'the process was wrong' or 'these are organizations which mean well.' For all of the statistics put forward by both Kathy Hoard, Heidi Davison, Andy Herod and Kinman, the only response George Maxwell could seemingly offer was 'look how nice those young people are who got help from EADC.'

- And that's what troubled me the most about this whole thing ... namely that this reconsideration was something that by its very nature wasn't operating by the normal rules we play by. The commission makes judgements based on the reports presented by the staff and, in this case, the partner agencies. Those reports were severely lacking and full of questions which both Hoard and Davison directed toward EADC director Winston Heard (and which he could not answer effectively). The more I heard about how this was awful because these agencies were blindsided or they served these communities or their missions had the right intent or how there was no transparency involved in the process, the more frustrated I got. The data in front of the commission - the data submitted by the agencies - revealed a pattern of missing their stated goals and inefficient service.

- Regarding this transparency thing, I think Herod rebutted Elton Dodson pretty well on that and in a way that, quite frankly, I hadn't even thought of. While it is true the actual vote to deny came rather suddenly, it isn't as if EADC and HCDC had not been made aware of their shortcomings by the local government. As both Herod and Kinman noted, staff had repeatedly listed several concerns involving the performance of both agencies and those concerns were communicated by the appropriate personnel to the organizations' staff. Now, both Kelly Girtz and Dodson argue the commission had a responsibility to 'help' both EADC and HCDC and echoed the blindsiding claim pushed by Sims, but I don't buy that. It is not the responsibility of the commission to communicate these concerns or 'help' them out, but rather the responsibility of the organizations receiving the funding to evaluate the concerns leveled by the A-CC staff and address them appropriately. It's obvious they did not.

- Also lost in this whole thing - and I knew it would be - was this money is not designated for EADC or HCDC, but rather to promote neighborhood revitalization, economic development and housing/job counseling in these targeted census tracts. Any organization which provides those services in those census tracts is eligible for funding, which is why this discussion spiraled out of control for me. The more the debate dragged on, the more apparent it seemed the real goal for some was not necessarily improving results in those neighborhoods but rather simply preserving the status quo by maintaining EADC and HCDC.

- Obviously, I found flaws with Sims's plan in that it didn't do anything to challenge the way those organizations do business which is why I had given the benefit of the doubt to what Dodson might propose. In the past four to five weeks, Dodson has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of how the vote was done and called for a reconsideration to be held. He was quoted in several media articles, wrote about in length at his blog and published a forum which loosely laid out his proposal, which would have followed a similar six-month plan for evaluation but challenged the organizations to dramatically change how they do business. Granted, I think Davison was right last night in stating that it's difficult to set parameters to accurately judge that, but I do think Dodson was moving in the right direction even if I disagreed with some of the numbers he was willing to throw out ...

- ... that said, why didn't he pitch his plan last night? Why express your outrage over the situation and then not put forward your proposal? Why spend the past five weeks developing what, by all accounts, would have been a more viable proposal that Sims's only to, well, not put it up for a vote? You had Carl Jordan and Doug Lowry eager to take a look at it - if not support it - and you didn't do it? I'm trying to frame this in a delicate manner since I do respect and like Dodson, but I'm having a hard time justifying this ... well ... lack of action after a lot of talk.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned the transparency issue and I'm glad Andy pointed it out. That's been the frustrating thing about this issue - the agencies were not broadsided. This has been years in the making, and it is great to have a commission that was strong enough to do something about the problem.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Jmac summed it up quite nicely. It was a "facts vs. emotions" debate. I don't think either side won but at least a few facts were brought to light.

It was clear that some commissioners actually followed up on some of the data that these agencies had reported and I think that was a surprise to Mr. Heard. It was also pretty clear that some of the commissioners had simply taken the data as face value and never thought to check the veracity of the reports.

That was always my problem with these and other agencies that receive money and submit reports. Who checks to make sure that what is on the report is complete and accurate? Usually, nobody does until there is some issue like this. Most non-profits don't come under scrutiny until it becomes really obvious that there is a problem.

But, the most telling item, for me, was when it was brought to light that one (or both) of these organizations had been directed to submit a reorganization plan over a year ago and had not done so. Then, some commissioners wanted to partially fund them while they worked on their reorganization strategy and plans. How did they think they could get away with simply ignoring this directive? They had several years worth of reports of "concern" and they seemed to think that they would be safe in just ignoring them. It seemed rather arrogant to me.

I had to chuckle that Keith Heard managed to drive in from his home in Atlanta to weigh in on this. He's been in Athens several times recently so he probably didn't even have to stop and ask directions this time.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous james said...

Of course, it is an election year. :)

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dodson had a chance to get a close look at who he was in bed with and decided to gnaw his own arm off...

Elton reminded me of Gollum, squatting in the dark, muttering in a hushed gutteral voice, "my processss, my processs...."

Maybe now, finally, Dodson will "sit down and stop talking!"

2:53 PM  

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