Commission rescinds, votes again on CDBG funding

One City Commissioner was willing to forfeit $236,250 in federal grant money over what he believes is an ethical violation by another commissioner.

The matter was revived during the June 20 meeting because the commission needed to rescind its June 6 vote, which would have been legally invalid since the approved allocations with a 2-1 vote when they need three yes votes to approve motions.

“We voted,” said Commissioner Fred Burow. “Let it stand.”

Mayor Bob Kelly asked if Burow asked that would leave the June 6 vote as invalid and the city would lose funding for public facility projects by the city and local organizations.

Burow said he understood.

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The funding is the city’s allocation for Community Development Block Grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the June 6 meeting, staff broke the motions for CDBG funds into three separate items due to alleged conflict of interest violations from Commissioner Tracy Houck.

The other two votes stand as proper and legally valid, but the motion related to the public facility funding was in question.

On June 6, commissioners voted 2-1 with Houck abstaining and Burow voting no. Commissioner Bill Bronson was in Butte for a working group on tax increment financing districts.

The question was raised during that meeting whether two votes could carry a motion and the city attorney incorrectly stated that it could, but the city clerk pointed out that a city resolution required three affirmative votes to approve motions. The commission had already voted at that point, so staff decided it needed to be brought back to the commission on June 20 to correct the error.

The public facilities potion has been particularly contentious this year since it included a funding request from Paris Gibson Square, where Houck is the executive director.

After the advisory council that reviews funding applications initially recommended no funding for PGS. Later, Houck sent emails to city staff and other commissioners complaining about the process and alleging the chair of the advisory board had a conflict of interest as a former PGS employee.

Those conflicts of interest allegations, as well as a procedural error of allowing Burow to speak during board discussion of the public facilities allocations, caused the city attorney and staff to have the advisory board meet to redo their recommendations.

Though the makeup of the advisory board was different in that meeting and the applications redid presentations, the resulting funding to PGS left some with the impression the change was made because Houck was influencing the process.

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Some residents have also suggested that Bronson had a conflict of interest since his son works part-time at PGS, but Bronson wrote a memo to the city attorney outlining why he believes he doesn’t have a conflict of interest in this matter and that memo was submitted to HUD. City staff said HUD was satisfied with the reasoning and it didn’t constitute a conflict of interest under their rules.

Bronson stated those reasonings again at the June 20 meeting and voted to approve the funding, as did Kelly and Commissioner Bob Jones. Burow again voted against it and Houck abstained.

Burow said he could live with returning the money over allowing the ethical issues to stand. He asked commissioners to vote no and return to the original funding recommendations that didn’t fund PGS.

Several residents said they still think it’s an ethical violation and one said she’d contact HUD herself ask about the issue.

Sara Sexe, city attorney, reminded commissioners that staff was working to revamp the entire process to avoid any similar conflict of interest issues in the future.