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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Somethin' funny with the (PAS) Stimulus money

You'd think with the mayoral election less than a week away, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs would not want another how-does-she-handle-the-city's-finances matter on her plate.

Yet, here we are.

I got rumbles yesterday that the Plainfield Action Services (PAS) board had forced a meeting with City Administrator Marc Dashield to get to the bottom of what has happened to approximately $93,000 of a $267,909 grant to the agency for a jobs-training program.

At the end of the day, Dashield was not able to tell the Board members exactly where the money has gone.

A little background, first on the agency, then on the grant.

Plainfield Action Services (PAS) is the successor of the original 1960s-era War on Poverty agency that came into existence under President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his 'Great Society' initiatives.

Those old enough to remember will recall that this was the first time in history that poor and minority people were actually going to have a chance for a direct say in how Federal money was going to be spent to improve their neighborhoods and their lives.

It was a period of intense community engagement, and the interest was reflected in balancing how the boards of the local agencies would be constructed, so as to ensure all stakeholders seats at the table. This meant large -- sometimes even huge -- boards, composed of community representatives as well as elected officials and members from nonprofits and social agencies.

(ASIDE: My SECOND job after college was funded through LBJ's anti-poverty agency, the Office of Economic Opportunity, or OEO, training welfare recipients to organize their own neighborhoods to participate in an agency like PAS; along with my friend Bill T., who later despaired of working within 'the establishment' and became head of the local Black Panther chapter.)

These boards exercised oversight over the agency's activities and expenditure of funds, while the municipality involved often became (as in Plainfield's case) the fiscal agent, since there was mistrust about how careful residents would be with the expenditure of monies.

How ironic in hindsight.

As for the grant Dashield can't explain, don't feel bad if it doesn't jog your memory.

It is meant to fund a job-training program with a start- and end-point, and included a line item for purchase of a van to transport the 'trained' workers to 'warehouses' where they would be employed.

It was never made explicit in any of the ARRA (Stimulus Plan) smoke-and-mirrors presentations by the Robinson-Briggs administration.

If you check the secret City web pages on the Stimulus (see here), you will see on Page 5 a 'Community Development Block Grant' for an unspecified amount on which the City was 'awaiting agency guidance'. Was that the grant in question? Could be, but since the City has never updated those web pages, you would be taking a shot in the dark.

(ANOTHER ASIDE: Would it be mean of me, while we're looking at these pages, to point out that on Page 2 of the Stimulus subsite, you will see a figure for road work for Somerset Street [never commenced], but NOT for Geraud Avenue [never listed, but undertaken as a Stimulus project, see here]? OK, I will NOT be mean.)

Maybe we'll have better luck checking the ARRA update posted by the Robinson-Briggs administration in early August (see here, in PDF). If you check slide 6 of the 9-slide show, you will find an item entitled 'Community Services Block Grant', which at $267,000 is the closest in any city documentation to the actual grant in question. The City does not list its purpose, only that it was a formula-based grant, and has been awarded. I'm guessing that this is the grant in question.

Who is to run the jobs-training program, PAS or another agency, or ... a 'consultant' picked in the slippery 'fair and open' manner so beloved by the Robinson-Briggs administration? Where are the monies kept and who monitors how they are spent?

Unfortunately, the PAS Board has not gotten straight answers to these questions.

Are the funds just missing? Misspent?

If checks were cut, to whom? For what services? Based on what vouchers? And, if contracts were involved, where are the necessary Council resolutions?

The PAS Board should be commended for having the guts to ask for answers to these and other questions.

Let's hope they get them.

Sooner rather than later.

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Anonymous said...

We need a jobs training program so people can work in a warehouse? That's what counts for stimulus? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Dan, you didn't mention that there is more to the van in the grant. There is a difference of opinion over whose name should be on the title: the city or PAS.

Anonymous said...

Where is the city council on this? Aren't they bound to let us know if there is some hanky panky and what they are going to do about it?

Yep I Said It! said...

9:40AM I am not familiar with this program; however -Training does make sense for employees working in a warehouse. More than likely it is industrial work and so therefore there MUST be training in SAFETY and TECHNIQUE.

The job training isn't the "somethin'funny". The "sumthin FISHY" is where is the MONEY???!!!

Hmmmm. . .

And -10:07AM I think Dan hatched this one on his own. Great Work Dan! I am sure if Mapp knew about this he would be more than willing to put this in his blog. Or . . . is this why he is having a townhall meeting tomorrow evening???

Hmmm . . .

Anonymous said...

The title to the van would be titled to the State and the City.

The only way the City could dispose of the van when the time came was to return the van back to the state or the state would have to sign off on the title.

Anonymous said...

At what point will Plainfield citizens say enough? I'm tired of being "robbed" by the PMUA, tired of paying higher property taxes every year (and I don't even know what they are until February), tired of the city winking at scofflaws who violate zoning and building codes, tired of rushing through center city because I'm embarrassed by the decline, tired of getting flat tires from all the street potholes, and tired of wondering why we gave city property to a developer who hasn't delivered on any promises to date.

Anonymous said...

The mayor needs to fire Dashield immediately. At first, I thought he was being willfully obtuse, like the mayor usually is. Now, however, I think it's more likely incompetence masked by arrogance. And it (his incompetence) knows no bounds, apparently. Then she should fire Williamson, and then herself.


Anonymous said...

Really couldn't find an appropriate place for this on your blog Dan so here goes...If you can find a better place for it on your blog, please do..."There has been a dizzying influx of money and operatives working for Republican candidates in local and state elections," Joan Hervey writes in the Courier News today while encouraging the return of Corzine, Green and Stender to Trenton. What does 22 million dollars from the Corzine fortune buy you? Votes, lots of them. As we approach election day, it saddens me how misinformed Plainfield residents are about the election up and down the board, from the local election to the Governor's race. Those folks urging the re-election of Democrats that have turned this state into a sewer of corruption makes me realize that if Jesus Christ himself were on the ballot next Tuesday and not running as a NJ Dem he would loose. I think I have lost all hope for a better day in Plainfield and NJ. My son is moving to North Carolina next month. After living in Plainfield for most of my adult life, I think this tired old lady needs to move as well. It breaks my heart to see what has become of this once great City...I am sure one would call this the incoherent rantings of a tired woman, but I have been around and seen a lot. So with regret but a keen sense of how things have and are shaping up, I know Plainfield's best days are gone forever.

Anonymous said...


I can honestly say [ananymously] I have heard "We do not have time to tell the Council, they be on board" It is used to save time, but usually leads to a .................. mess.

Anonymous said...

Well we know now, $185,000 to Malcolm Dunn and Family! To be continued......