A committee appointed by the city of Toledo to recommend how to spend millions of federal neighborhood-development dollars was stacked with five Bell administration employees and the city neighborhoods department director’s domestic partner, one councilman said.
Toledo Councilman Mike Craig called it a conflict of interest and “kangaroo court,” while Councilman Adam Martinez said it gave the “appearance of impropriety.”
“Four of them work in the department of neighborhoods and another is Linda Alvarado, who is the head of the board of community relations,” Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Craig said it was not appropriate for Lourdes Santiago, the neighborhoods department director, to appoint Martha Delgado — field director for the University of Toledo social work department — because they are partners and live together.
“Martha is very qualified to be on that committee, and I would not object to it, but my wife is really qualified to do a lot of things, but I can’t just assign her to do things because it’s a conflict,” Mr. Craig said.
The 10-member “Community Review Committee” made recommendations for Community Development Block Grant funding to public service agencies and the city’s community development corporations, which are facing funding cuts this year. The final decision rests with city council.
Toledo’s CDBG allocation from the federal government last year was $6.83 million.
Ms. Santiago said she is hoping for the same amount in CDBG money but expects a minimum 5 percent decrease in the federal Emergency Solutions Grant that is distributed to homeless shelters through the city’s neighborhoods department.
The committee reviewing the CDBG money became an issue for Mr. Craig last week during a council hearing.
“I said if she wanted to make the decision herself, then go ahead and do it and don’t go through a charade of staffing this committee with people who report to her,” Mr. Craig said. “They made the recommendations on several million dollars of money.”
Ms. Santiago said Ms. Delgado’s expertise was needed, and she cleared the appointment with city Law Director Adam Loukx.
“The committee makes recommendations for the outside agencies, and basically that is it,” she said. “The city department employees who are on the committee are the program monitors and the fiscal staff who are very aware of these outside agencies.”
Along with Ms. Delgado, Ms. Alvarado and the four neighborhoods department employees, the committee members were Romulus Durant, Toledo Public Schools assistant superintendent; Teresa N. Smith, business development manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority; Evelyn McKinney of the United Way of Greater Toledo, and Sarah Harrison, senior program officer for the Toledo Community Foundation.
Recommendations from the committee have left some worried that Toledo City Council could slash their funding when it makes the final decision.
The community development corporation United North Inc., which late last year proposed turning the former St. Hedwig School in North Toledo’s Polish Village into 41 apartments for low-income seniors, was dismayed to have that project cut out of recommendations for the CDBG allocation.
United North last year got $357,000, of which $27,000 was sent for Toledo Grows to do a project at the Toledo Botanical Gardens. This year, the agency is recommended to get $270,802.
Ms. Santiago said the St. Hedwig project was cut because “it is not ready” and relies on state tax credits that have not yet been approved. Terry Glazer, United North’s executive director, said he expects the tax credits to be approved in July.
The Community Review Committee also recommended cutting an economic development project to help small businesses in South Toledo by NeighborWorks Toledo Region, formerly Neighborhood Housing Services.
Ms. Santiago said all 12 councilmen were invited to attend multiple planning meetings and training sessions with the outside agencies, but none of them attended any of the meetings.
Mr. Martinez, who is chairman of council's neighborhoods committee, said the recommendations could be voted on during council’s next regular meeting May 14.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @ignaziomessina.