Mayor Mike Bell
In a defiant move that enraged members of Toledo's legislative branch, Mayor Mike Bell today submitted an annual action plan to the federal government that lays out a proposal to allocate millions of grant dollars to community groups and homeless shelters.
The city's "one-year action" was sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Bell administration without the traditional approval from city council. The deadline to submit the plan is Friday.
The plan details how Toledo intends to allocate and spend $6.8 million in Community Development Block Grant money and $610,343 in Emergency Solutions Grant funds. In the past - after a series of independent meetings with community development groups and homeless shelters that applied for a slice of the federal funding - the mayor's office would send the plan to council for approval. Council has sometimes altered recommendations and directed money to other groups or agencies.
Council already had set a hearing for 1 p.m. today to talk about the role of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, which is another sore point for some on council. A special meeting was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. to vote on accepting the the CDBG and ESG funding, which would normally include its approval of the one-year action plan.
This year, the process has been more pugnacious than usual.
Lourdes Santiago, director of the city’s neighborhoods department, told council several times during its regular meeting Tuesday that “its job” was to approve the administration's recommendations on how to allocate the money. Several councilmen erupted at Ms. Santiago — chastising her for essentially telling council it lacked the legislative authority to change the allocations. Councilman Lindsay Webb interrupted Ms. Santiago, warning her not to tell council its job. Councilman Mike Craig interrupted her again when she persisted to tell council its role in the process.
Mr. Bell said he filed the HUD documents Wednesday to comply with the federal government’s deadline and because it is the administration’s role to apply for the grant and council’s role to say “yay or nay” whether to accept the grant.
He said he gave city council plenty of time to weigh in, but most members, he said, were afraid to do so because they knew the spending cuts would be politically unpopular.
“We started working on this in October. Some of them purposely avoided taking on this issue so they could seek political cover. That they chose not to act is not our problem,” Mr. Bell said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Santiago and Law Director Adam Loukx told council they lacked the authority to change the recommendations submitted by the administration, even though that has been the practice many times.
“What council’s role is to say ‘Yes, we accept it,’ and allocate the money,” Mr. Loukx said. “I believe that they have very, very limited ability to do that. There has been, and always has been, adjustments under the HUD recommendations. I don’t believe there is any real authority and I don’t want to be as curt as [Ms. Santiago] to say it is not your job, but that is an accurate statement.”
The process of deciding how to divvy up the CDBG funding includes getting recommendations from a 10-member “Community Review Committee.” That committee was stacked with four city neighborhoods department employees, another Bell administration director, and Ms. Santiago’s domestic partner.
The neighborhoods department also receives a piece of the federal funding for its activities, which include monitoring the third-party agencies such as community development groups.
Bell administration officials have said none of the 12 councilmen attended any of the meetings on the topic, which were detailed in a Jan. 11 memo.
Councilman D. Michael Collins said the mayor acted improperly.
"I was enraged and insulted because the mayor obviously needs a refresher course in how Democracy works," he said.
Councilman Adam Martinez on Tuesday said he spoke to a HUD official who said it would be acceptable to send the grant request by Friday's deadline without details for how the money would be allocated to specific homeless shelters and community groups. Ms. Santiago said she spoke to the same HUD official but was told the opposite - that that would not be acceptable.
The extra time would have given council time to review the plan, which has been criticized by a group of homeless shelter directors because it shifts money away from some of their services.
Renee Palacios, executive director of Family House in central Toledo, said it will shut down a toddler program and school-age program in the summer because of a potential $79,000 cut. Beach House, for example, last year received $52,573 in Emergency Solutions money. It requested $94,517 for the 2013-14 allocation but is only recommended to get $47,841 under that category. However, the review committee recommended it get another $50,000 in Emergency Solutions money for rapid rehousing, a program that helps people in need get placed in apartments.
On the CDBG side of the controversy, 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.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.