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Grant writer demoted after blunders cost Toledo potential $1.1M

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    Young men involved in United Toledo YouthBuild, Face Forward, and Community Integration, Training for Employment (CITE), and Toledo Grows work on a sidewalk. Due to errors in a grant application, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority has missed a chance at a $1.1 million grant for YouthBuild.

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    United Toledo YouthBuild members Charles Phoenix, left, and Laura Byard take a board off a window while working on a house in 2014. Due to errors in a grant application, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority has missed a chance at a $1.1 million grant for YouthBuild.

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    Nate Sanders, rear, of Toledo, construction trainer for United Toledo YouthBuild and participant Deontae Johnson, 21, of Toledo, lay the subfloor for a bathroom in 2014. Due to errors in a grant application, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority has missed a chance at a $1.1 million grant for YouthBuild.

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Toledo’s onetime grant writer was demoted to the city’s water department with a substantial pay cut after a snafu that cost the city and the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority any chance of landing a $1.1 million grant to start a jobs training program.

Dorothy Spurlock — a former University of Toledo employee who was fired twice by the school and sued the institution for race, gender, and disability discrimination — was hired by Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson in January, 2016, as the city’s grants administrator for $67,000 a year.

Officials could not reveal the salary for her water department job Thursday. 

City spokesman Janet Schroeder on Friday said the salary would be $40,381.

Her transfer to the Department of Public Utilities followed a series of blunders in applying for a $1.1 million grant to fund a local YouthBuild program with the LMHA. It also came nearly one year after Mayor Hicks-Hudson asked ex-Toledo Neighborhoods Director Tom Kroma to resign for his role in the loss of a different grant that was half of that amount.

Mayor Hicks-Hudson said Ms. Spurlock was moved because of “the need for stronger grant-writing skills” in the water department.

The mayor said the loss of the $1.1 million grant had nothing to do with the transfer and salary cut. She would not comment on Mr. Kroma’s forced resignation compared with Ms. Spurlock’s transfer and demotion.

“That was not really part of it because the grant was submitted,” she said. “I am looking for more aggressive work for grant-writing and things like that.”

Ms. Spurlock could not be reached for comment.

A review of LMHA emails showed the grant application missed a May deadline and agency officials pointing fingers at the city for failing to submit the application in time.

LMHA President and CEO Demetria Simpson said the agency’s resource management staff was preparing in April to apply to the U.S. Department of Labor. But agency staff learned Pathway Inc. and the city of Toledo were also working on applications for the same grant.

“We reached out to the city to let them know we had already put together a project that would last over the course of the grant,” she said.

Ms. Simpson, who was then LMHA’s chief operating officer, said her agency and Pathway elected to have the city take the lead on the application process because a single request representing the groups would have a better chance at landing the grant.

“I called [Toledo chief of staff] Mark Sobczak to make sure there would be only one application,” she said. “It looked like we were on the right path. Something didn’t happen at the end.”

Ms. Simpson said the LMHA’s proposal for the YouthBuild program called for giving youths, ages 16 to 24, on-the-job training in the construction trades. 

LMHA planned to partner with construction companies and have participants rehabilitate LMHA properties. The program would have served 30 youths, with funding for three years.

“We want to make sure that the 16 to 24-year-olds who live in LMHA properties have the opportunities to get jobs,” Ms. Simpson said. “We didn’t have the opportunity this year to do that. But you can believe we will apply for the grant next year if funds are available.”

Emails from Ms. Simpson to LMHA board members indicate the city failed to meet the May deadline.

“I regret to inform you the grant was not submitted as the lead entity, [the city], was unable to navigate the electronic submission system though grants.gov,” Coleena Ali, vice president of LMHA resident services, said in an May 10 email to LMHA board member William Brennan; then-president and CEO Martin LaMar and Ms. Simpson.

Ms. Ali said LMHA had devoted “significant time” to the YouthBuild project.

“There were still significant gaps in the city’s final proposal that should have been completed by them, which contributed to loss of time in submitting the application.”

Also on May 10, Ms. Simpson wrote to Mr. Brennan: “I am deeply disappointed that the city would allow this to happen when LMHA could have moved forward and submit[sic] the application without the city but we were trying to be good partners.”

The next day, Mr. Brennan and Ms. Simpson emailed back and forth about what had happened and why the grant application was not submitted.

“I am not sure this can get any more bizarre but Dorothy told the director of economic development for the city that the grant had been submitted.” Mr. Brennan wrote to Ms. Simpson. “We asked for evidence of that. Stay tuned.”

Ms. Simpson later responded and explained what happened in another email to Mr. Brennan.

“It was due at 4 p.m., as of 4:06 p.m., they still were having issues submitting the application,” she wrote. “Dorothy was having trouble submitting the attachments. She had no urgency at all. ... Dorothy still had missing pieces of the application, including her budget, which was not done.”

Ms. Spurlock was demoted to “clerk specialist II.”

Ms. Schroeder produced a copy of Ms. Spurlock’s personnel file six days after The Blade requested to view those records.

A July 18 letter in the file said the transfer was “not the result of any disciplinary issues for Ms. Spurlock.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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