Three Toledo homeless shelters that expected a financial lifeline were back to holding their breath after city council failed on Tuesday to overturn a line-item veto regarding federal money from Mayor Mike Bell, and then postponed a compromise on using general fund money to help fund their operations.
The ping-ponging between the mayor and council regarding the allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant funding has gone on for weeks. It seemed close to an end Tuesday, but will now go on at least another two weeks.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bell cut council out of the final piece of the decision-making process on allocating more than $6 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. Instead of waiting for a council vote of approval or allowing revisions, he sent the city’s “one-year action” plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Council subsequently passed its own plan that restored funding to three shelters — Aurora House,1035 North Superior St.; LaPosada, 435 Eastern Ave., and Family House, 669 Indiana Ave. — and also for a low-income senior housing project in North Toledo. Mayor Bell used his veto power on May 22 to wipe away those changes, but last week his administration said it would ask council to approve taking $100,800 out of the city’s general fund to help bail out the shelters.
Nine votes were needed to override the veto but only five voted in favor — Councilmen Tyrone Riley, Steven Steel, Lindsay Webb, D. Michael Collins, and Mike Craig. Councilmen Shaun Enright, Paula Hicks-Hudson, Rob Ludeman, and Adam Martinez voted against overriding. Councilmen George Sarantou, Joe McNamara, and Tom Waniewski abstained.
Mr. Martinez, chairman of council’s neighborhoods committee, said he supports the compromise but it is being held for two weeks because of “technical issues” with the legislation in that it doesn’t specify how that $100,800 would be spent.
“I am optimistic that we can find a compromise,” he said.
Mr. Craig went a step further and suggested the city spend $200,000 out of the general fund to help support homeless shelters.
“Let’s not have the shelters literally fighting over scraps,” Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Steel criticized the mayor for cutting council out of the decision-making process, telling council it had to accept his plan to HUD as presented, and for attempting to “lead him by the nose.”
“This administration seems to be able to find money in the general fund whenever it wants,” he said.
Mayor Bell said his line-item veto was the right thing to do because council did not have the authority to change the one-year action plan sent to HUD.
“I think cooler heads prevailed,” Mr. Bell said. “We reached out an olive branch to try to fix this, and then people on the other side reached out an olive branch that were willing to accept an alternative proposal. It was a win-win for everybody, especially the citizens.”
Under the olive-branch option offered by the Bell administration, Aurora, a shelter for homeless women and their children, would get an additional $28,634; LaPosada, a shelter for families, would get an extra $8,000, and Family House, a family shelter, would get an extra $64,166.
Also under the recommendations sent to HUD, St. Paul’s Community Center, 230 13th St., will get $20,500 in block-grant money — about half of what it previously got. Family Outreach Community United Services Inc., 283 Ashland Ave., will get $77,282 and Harbor House, a shelter for homeless and chemically dependent women at 3322 Cherry St., will get $14,700.
Different shelters also get different allocations of federal Emergency Solutions Grant money.
Mr. Martinez said the compromise with Mayor Bell includes making the process of deciding the recommendations for CDBG and ESG funding more transparent.
Mr. Bell on Tuesday maintained that councilmen were given plenty of notice about meetings and deadlines to discuss funding beginning in January but that none attended.
In other business, council narrowly voted to pay $92,000 in legal fees to lawyer Jay Feldstein and his law firm of Kalniz, Iorio and Feldstein for the defense of former councilman Bob McCloskey in his civil corruption case.
According to the ordinance, the city had to hire an outside lawyer to represent McCloskey because of a legal conflict between the city and the former East Toledo councilman.
The contract between Mr. Feldstein and the city was signed in 2004. In early 2006, the city notified McCloskey that it no longer would provide him with a defense and stopped paying legal fees, but Mr. Feldstein responded that his firm would continue to represent McCloskey and reserved its rights to later seek reimbursement. The city did not pay for McCloskey’s criminal bribery representation.
Mr. McNamara, Mr. Riley, Mr. Steel, Mr. Waniewski, and Mr. Craig voted against paying the bill.
Mr. Feldstein said that because of the contract he signed with the city to represent McCloskey in 2004 and because McCloskey was found not at fault in the $10 million civil suit, the city would have likely been ordered to pay by a court.
“I’m happy city council did the right thing and by doing the right thing city council avoided another lawsuit,” Mr. Feldstein said.
Council also voted to hire the University of Toledo to develop a new civil service exam for police and firefighter applicants. The cost over five years would be $700,000. The city could spend about $120,000 through March, 2014, when three UT professors assigned to the project would begin scoring and validating the tests, said Ellen Grachek, the city’s human resources director. Mr. Riley and Mr. Steel voted against the measure.
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