City making another adjustment to CDBG process for appeals
The city is continuing to adjust the code and the process for allocating Community Development Block Grants.
On Thursday, the Board of Adjustment will consider a resolution that would establish a Board of Appeals and designate the board as the deciding body for CDBG allocations.
That will be consistent with the policies adopted by the City Commission in April 2018 and help reduce potential of conflicts in the future.
In April, commissioners adopted CDBG policies in an effort to remove the commission from the appeal process for CDBG allocations and the allocations are now made administratively based on staff evaluation.
The city also eliminated the Community Development Council to further reduce potential conflicts of interest.
City staff is proposing to create the Board of Appeals and its membership would be that of the Board of Adjustment.
If approved, the Board of Appeals would be the decided body for administrative decision appeals specifically identified by city ordinance, commission resolution or city code.
The city made significant changes to its CDBG policies and processes after a series of conflict of interest issues during the 2017 allocation cycle.
For years, staff and other community members have expressed concern over the conflict of interest issues, real or perceived, within the city’s old CDBG process.
That process involved local agencies submitting applications for funding that were reviewed and ranked by the Community Development Council, a city-appointed body. Membership was open to the city residents to apply but membership had long included those involved in local nonprofits.
Typically, members recused themselves from discussion and votes related to an application from a group they’re associated with but in 2017, one CDC member did not disclose a past conflict with Paris Gibson Square and ranked the organization’s application low among the other applicants, resulting in no funding for PGS.
Whether that ranking was intentional is unclear, but PGS director Tracy Houck, who was also a City Commissioner at the time, took issue with the lack of funding for her organization and sent a letter to Craig Raymond, city planning director, and other city staffers complaining about the conflict of interest issue. The CDC reconvened without the member who ranked PGS poorly and ultimately funding was recommended for PGS.
The letter created a larger conflict of interest issue and prompted then Commissioner Fred Burow to state his concerns with the funding award and he voted against the PGS grant. In another CDC meeting, Burow spoke during the period designated for board discussion, creating a procedural problem since he wasn’t a member of that board.
As that discussion was playing out, other community members again raised concerns over Commissioner Bill Bronson’s ties to NWGF since his wife works there, though he maintains that she works in a different department than those impacted by CDBG funds.
Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development declined to fund PGS and several other agencies over the conflict issues. HUD has since closed the matter over conflicts of interest, but is now looking at an issue with NeighborWorks Great Falls involving HUD funds that were used to purchase a home in foreclosure that NWGF had previously purchased, rehabilitated and sold.
NWGF and the city are contesting HUD’s issue, but repaid the money in question, about $78,000, in November so that the city’s account would be unlocked and they could continue operating.
Raymond said the city has not heard anything from HOME since they sent a response and repaid the funds on Nov. 16.