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Meeting hammers out process for choosing CDBG projects

Councilman Geoff Schenkel, left, discusses with Mayor Josh Schlicher, center, and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz, his proposed legislation to add transparency to CDBG request scoring Thursday prior to a joint committee meeting discussing submitted requests for 2021 fiscal year funding. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Fourteen Harmar residents, one Harmar business owner, all seven voting members of Marietta City Council, and both the mayor and safety-service director gathered in the Armory Thursday to listen to the preliminary development office recommendations for expenditure of federal Community Development Block Grant funds for fiscal year 2021.

The meeting contained some inconsistent terminology use between government officials present, but it also netted both multiple citizen questions and demands for clarity and a legislation demand to create a transparent and trackable grading matrix for grant requests.

Discussion

“This is a fluid document, the whole thing is going to be for a while,” said Development Director Mike Gulliver to introduce the color-coded spreadsheet he submitted to council for review Thursday.

Councilman Mike Scales, finance chairman, asked that Gulliver outline his recommendations based on the between 229 and 252 requests submitted. (Based on public records requests, it is unclear of the specific number of requests submitted, and Gulliver did not yet provide the missing 21-23 administration-credited request documents alleged to exist in his spreadsheet Thursday, as requested by the Times and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.)

Scales also read into the record, the four questions posed in the Times’ Thursday edition previewing the meeting, which he had Council Clerk Jennifer Starkey print off copies of for council members to read during the meeting, too.

Those questions were:

What are the requirements for a member of the city administration to request CDBG funds?

Which kinds of requests carry the most weight in the CDBG request process? What is the grading scale?

What are the requirements for outside agencies, nonprofits and organizations to request CDBG funds? How are they to be notified of their requirements if they are pursuing more than one year of funding?

How will the three-year consolidated plan for fiscal years 2021-2023 be determined? (Gulliver provided a one-page spreadsheet to the Times and Wetz Monday, which he stated was the three-year plan for the city’s CDBG allocation. the last consolidated plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2018-2020 was 167 pages and can be downloaded from the city website at bit.ly/18-20MttaConsolidated).

Gulliver did not answer any of the four questions read by Scales.

Additional questions posed by attendees and through the city’s Facebook Live stream included:

-Shane Colvin, a third ward resident with past experience working with the city through its template blight lawsuit last summer that is now being used to duplicate and accelerate slum and blight abatement asked the following question via Facebook:

“When the city submits an RFQ to a contractor, is there not a way to limit the total spend to a percentage of the bid?” he asked.

The question was submitted into the record but not answered Thursday.

He also noted that the progress in most recent years has given him hope of the capability to more efficiently address urgent health risks posed by slum and blight.

“The city has made good progress and should continue their momentum [but] I think we need clarification on if citizens’ input [carries] less weight than the engineering office,” he added. “Blight is a concern. Citizens should not have to go through a six-year process as we did with the property on 708 8th St.”

Councilwoman Cassidi Shoaf and Councilman Bill Gossett also pushed on the weight and grading scale metrics questions after Gulliver said the engineering office input carried more weight in a request and then later in the meeting backtracked that statement.

“That conversation (with engineering) is not happening in a public setting,” Shoaf pointed out because representatives of the city engineering department have not been present for the public meetings concerning CDBG. “You are saying engineering is driving the location of those not citizen requests.”

“No I’m not saying that,” replied Gulliver. “I don’t know how to speak in a way you want me to speak.”

Gossett questioned why the eight requests he turned in on behalf of his constituents for ADA curb ramps for the intersection of Ninth and Washington streets were documented as having come from Engineering, Administration and Development departments, rather than from his ward constituents.

“I knew that the ones I had gathered from constituents, there were eight of them, I don’t know where the other two came from,” said Gossett.

Busy Bee Owner Larry Sloter, who lives in Devola but has owned the restaurant in the low-income neighborhood for five years, asked the following questions, without clear response:

In reviewing this and their recommendations that were sent forth, that you counted the number of items and money that was allotted to Harmar, you calculated an amount that was too much, how is that (cap) determined?

Were there more than seven sites that were requested for sidewalk repair/replacement? Can all of the recommended sidewalk repair funding money (cover work for) all seven?

How are the citizens notified when they’re deemed to be ineligible?

Sloter also asked specifically about requests he signed his name to describing a need for painted on-street parking stalls on Gilman Avenue to invite and signal economic support of the west side businesses located within the low-income neighborhood.

“The one I was a driving force on was to get parking spaces to be painted in the 200 and 300 blocks,” Sloter stated.

He asked how the project was determined by Gulliver to be ineligible or not recommended for funding.

While Gulliver did not respond, Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz responded saying the project may be in total or in part funded from city coffers.

“If it’s something we can do internally without CDBG funds we’re going to try and do that,” Wetz explained. “I’ve turned over your request to Jimmy Kidd … Anything that’s already there or has been there can be repainted. If it’s not already been there or doesn’t exist (Kidd is required to) bring that list back to me so we can address those.”

Linda Veraldo, a Harmar resident, also asked clarifying questions of the determination for the most requested project: the elimination of the blight at 115-117 Gilman Ave.

She asked what the engineering assessment concluded of the building’s structural integrity.

Wetz replied the conclusion has not yet been determined fully but that he has dispatched the requirement for the streets foreman to spray weed killer to allow for further analysis minus the threat of poison ivy.

What’s next:

-Councilman Geoff Schenkel, while noting positive recommendations from the development office also submitted a legislation proposal to create a new grading matrix for CDBG requests that would, if passed by council next week, require a regrade of the projects requested.

-Councilwoman Cassidi Shoaf called for a pause on any further advancement of the 2021 fiscal considerations until the 2021-2023 federally-required three-year consolidated plan is thoroughly completed, reviewed and approved by council.

-Councilman Mike Scales requested that a meeting with the city’s new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development representative out of Columbus, be scheduled with council and the administration for further clarification on HUD requirements.

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