With its largest source of funding set to run out, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo appears to be turning to the city of Toledo for a lifeline.
Board members voted on Monday to accept a $100,000 grant from the city's Department of Neighborhoods to pay its chief executive officer's salary. The money would come from Community Development Block Grant funding, the same kind of federal funds that recently sparked a fight between City Council and Mayor Mike Bell's administration.
While EOPA board members spoke as if the grant is nearly a done deal, city officials differed on descriptions of how far negotiations have gone, and council members said they were totally in the dark about the grant.
On June 30, EOPA’s $13 million Head Start grant expires, leaving the association without the bulk of its funding. The Rev. Donald Perryman, board chairman, said the city grant would help stabilize the organization, adding that he expected to sign a contract for the grant "in the near future."
“The capacity-building grant will ensure EOPA has stable leadership while it restructures itself to continue its mission,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Shirley Green, who was appointed to sit on the EOPA board by Mayor Mike Bell in January, confirmed Tuesday that the Bell administration had agreed to give EOPA the $100,000 for its CEO salary. She also said the money would come out of $1.588 million in unspent CDBG funding left from prior years.
Council voted 11-0 on Feb. 5 to give the Bell administration authority to reappropriate that money.
Ms. Green directed further questions to Lourdes Santiago, the city's neighborhoods director. Ms. Santiago, who said she was the city official discussing the grant with EOPA members, said she was only in preliminary discussions about the grant, and that no agreement in writing or in principle has been made.
“At this point, any voting on that contract was very premature, because no contract exists,” she said.
Ms. Santiago said she held discussions with Mayor Bell and both agreed that if contract language can be worked out, funds could be available. She said the activities and programs that EOPA operates are critical to low and mid-income residents in the area, and any grant would require monitoring of EOPA by the Department of Neighborhoods.
She said Ms. Green has not been involved in discussion over the funding, and did not know why the two differed on the grant's status.
“I don't report to Deputy Mayor Shirley Green,” she said. “I report directly to Deputy Mayor Paul Syring and, of course, the mayor.”
Toledo councilmen made aware of a possible deal were surprised on Tuesday. Councilman Adam Martinez, chairman of council's neighborhoods committee, was unaware of the deal.
“I really don't know what [EOPA's] finances are and $100,000 for an executive, at first glance, seems to be a little much," Mr. Martinez said. “I can't make a determination without knowing what they are doing and the full scale and scope of the organization.”
Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson, who also did not know about the deal, sees it as a worthy investment.
“I see it as a good move to help an agency get back to refocus on its mission,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said. “I reject the idea that it's a bailout. I see it as an opportunity to help an agency that needs to refocus its mission.”
Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is running for mayor, said council should demand a review of how the Bell administration allocated federal dollars.
“Shielding things in legislation is not a new phenomenon for the Bell administration,” Mr. Collins said. “Their attitude toward transparency is obvious, it is not important to them.”
Mayor Bell sent the city’s “one-year action” to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week, a day before a planned council meeting on the topic and without the traditional approval from city council.
That plan included $200,000 for EOPA, which was a $70,000 reduction from its allocation the previous year. That funding is separate from the proposed grant.
Council on Thursday ignored Mayor Bell’s attempt to cut them out of the plan and voted on a revised plan that restored funding to three homeless shelters that were facing sharp cutbacks and also directed money to a North Toledo community group’s senior housing project. Council's version did not change the 2013 EOPA allocation.
The mayor’s plan assumed the city would get $6.8 million in CDBG money. Council reduced that expectation to $6.1 million in anticipation of sequestration reducing the amount.
The dispute between council and the Bell administration was referenced in the EOPA meeting, when board member Ed Scrutchins asked Ms. Green about whether City Council had inquired about the grant.
“What's going on with City Council questioning all of what's going on down there?" he asked. "Are we still good?"
“City Council questioning what, exactly?" Ms. Green responded. "Because City Council questions a lot of things."
Mr. Scrutchins clarified that he was asking about the grant for EOPA.
“Are they questioning this grant?" he asked. "That we have a promise of $100,000."
“That has not changed," she said.
Board member Sylvester Gould later thanked Mr. Perryman and Ms. Green for securing the funding.
“I would just like to thank [Mr.] Perryman and Deputy Mayor Shirely Green for the efforts that they made, above and beyond the call of duty as members of this board, to go out and get $100,000 to to help us with this transition that we are going through," he said.
Robert Jordan serves as interim chief executive officer for EOPA, while the board searches for a replacement for former CEO James Powell, who was terminated earlier this year.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.