Delaware Wilmington

Open Up City Council’s Funding Process and Let All of the City’s Organizations Have a Chance

Wilmington Cty Council approves spending by the Administration and does so by a process.  Typically that process includes a public hearing on that spending and a public vote to approve it.  During the budget process, the parts of the Wilmington Government that specifically do not have a public hearing on their budget plans are the Mayor’s Office, The City Council itself and (as of this year) the Treasurer’s office.  We know that the Treasurer’s office provided budget briefings in small groups of City Council people, probably as an end run around FOIA.  I’d bet that the Mayor’s office and City Council does the same.  Somehow this doesn’t get the attention that the Council Leadership Team’s confidential meetings got, and this is certainly more serious.

Still, I’m sure that many of us were stunned at this reporting from Christina Jedra on City Council’s fairly massive “Discretionary” Fund.  The majority of this Discretionary Fund is doled out at the whim of the City Council President.  The magnitude of this story becomes alot clearer when you see the visual of how the NJ broke down that spending.

A little sideline here — I see this data not just as a taxpayer in the city, but also as someone who has led a neighborhood association, sat on the Board of a preservation Foundation and bemoaned the lack of financial help available for community organizations.  My neighborhood organization has not gotten any Council funding (there was a shot as a $200.00 grant this year, but we don’t keep a TIN), and I don’t think the Foundation has, either.  There are many organizations throughout the City doing great work to build their neighborhood communities and never see any help from the city.  But apparently we can see our way clear to sponsoring boxing events.

I’ve spoken about Education Voices before.  While I think that Devon Hynson does heroic work in helping parents and kids get the services they should get from their school systems, I don’t think that this should be paid for by the City.  If you start a non-profit, especially one with this kind of vital service, you should set it up so that it is pointed at some longevity.  It was never fair to Devon or the kids he fights for to funnel City funds to this organization without getting this organization set up to develop its own funding stream.  Setting this up without telling the rest of Council that this is where the money goes was disrepectful to Council.  Setting this up with an unstable funding source from City Council undermined a real opportunity for some longevity that is definitely needed.

But I’m more upset over some of the other expenditures — to churches, for conferences (why aren’t these part of the regular operating budget — or better yet, paid for by the attendee?), for Municipalities?  How is it that the PAL and Stop the Violence Prayer Chain Foundation receive a river of funds and places like People’s Settlement or West End Neighborhood House are not listed?   What does Communities Assisting Communities do?  Or Our Time, Inc, for that matter?  And what on earth did the Triangle get for $14K?

This City is filled with organizations working hard to build community in various ways and it is astonishing to me that so many of them are not here.

Of course, no one wants to talk about accountability, either.  Demanding records via FOIA isn’t exactly transparency.  Transparency would be public grant-making — and making the reporting on how the money was spent available to taxpayers online.  No one knows how well this money got used, it looks like and that should raise every Red Flag there is.

If it was up to me, I’d cut back these slush funds pretty severely and place those funds in the budget for Parks and Recreation.  Let them ramp up the kind of programming that Kevin Kelley is trying to get done there and stop building all of these little patronage silos.  No doubt that many of them are doing excellent work.  But I don’t get undercutting the City’s own efforts in order to hand out money to your friends.

I don’t get handing out money to organizations without getting any opportunity to see how the money was spent and how effective they are.  Wilmingtonians just lived through another tax increase and it is WAY past time for City Council and every other organization to get with an austerity program that controls these slush fund moneys and gets them back to funding scholarships for local children.  Whatever happens, Council’s effort to dole out taxpayer funds needs a whole lot more sunshine and process.

 

15 comments on “Open Up City Council’s Funding Process and Let All of the City’s Organizations Have a Chance

  1. Well done, Cassandra!

    I don’t know how city council members weren’t aware of Theo’s funding for Education Voices, as widely discussed as it was at the time, but regardless, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to where any of the city’s money is going. Time for full accountability and transparency is overdue for any budgets set by any office, department or legislative body.

  2. Thank you for separating Devon from Theo’s mess. Too many people don’t know of all the good work he’s done for something like a decade now — long before he had any kind of funding.

    The common thread to all the giveaways is that the people on city council are abysmal at raising money, even for their own campaigns, so the only source of revenue they know is public funds.

    • cassandram

      The HOPE Commission was started with city funds, but had to figure out its longer term funding. And I think we could have a conversation about a City-sponsored school resources agency — that connects parents to multiple streams of resources since the local school systems don’t do much in this arena.

      Devon does incredible work and gets results. It would be worth formalizing this work so that it is more likely to be available for more kids.

      • Grant-writing is a valuable skill. If anybody on City Council had ever gotten real-world experience that wasn’t provided by politics they would realize and utilize that. One facet of upper-middle-class privilege is that their charities get funded by charitable trusts that would leap at the well-presented opportunity to fund the sort of organization you propose.

        • cassandram

          Education Voices had a Board. It would be interesting to hear how this Board was structured (who they may have really been accountable to) and whether they thought they could live on City money forever.

    • 100% agree about Devon! He’s done some amazing work. If someone doesn’t separate him out from this mess, then they really don’t know what they’re talking about.

  3. AGovernor

    I find it interesting that the money is doled out without much more than a letter and the president’s okay. The Neighborhood Planning Councils have money allocated for use in the districts, for “capital” projects through the budgeting process. To spend the money an NPC must fill out a grant application and have the project approved by a committee put together by the planning department. Once the project is approved no funds ever flow to the NPC, all vendors are paid by the city.

    • cassandram

      This is a great point. Funds that are approved for neighborhood associations and NPCs have a detailed application and accounting process. So there is a model in place for better accountability.

  4. Joshua W

    Christina Jedra is a treasure and we don’t deserve her.

  5. AGovernor

    Have you all seen this?

    “STATEMENT BY WILMINGTON CITY COUNCIL
    REGARDING TRANSPARENCY IN SPENDING

    Wilmington, Del. (July 18, 2017) Wilmington City Council President Hanifa Shabazz issued the following statement in response to a recent article in the News Journal regarding transparency and oversight of Council’s strategic fund allocations:

    “Wilmington City Council takes its fiduciary responsibilities very seriously. We reject the notion that the tax-payer dollars managed by Council – and allocated in support of worthy organizations with meritorious history of providing critical services to Wilmington residents and especially children – lack accountability or transparency. To the contrary, Council’s budget and expenditures are available for review and available for public scrutiny and Saturday’s article substantiates that.
    However, it was disappointing to see that much of the detail and information provided by Council was omitted from Saturday’s article.

    For example, there was no mention of Council’s work, since January, to develop a strategic plan – a document that will identify where the priority needs are throughout the city and where Council resources can best be deployed.

    It was disclosed back in November that the plan for strategic resource distribution would be based on priority need, however, there was no mention of that either. The article also failed to mention the on-going efforts of Council to review and identify opportunities for greater accountability and transparency in our current strategic fund allocation process, even though those details were communicated.

    I’m confident that the strategic plan, slated for completion in September, coupled with our ongoing efforts to enhance oversight will ensure that Wilmington City Council continues to operate with the highest standards of accountability and transparency.”

    • cassandram

      I saw this and I am dumbfounded. One more day that the people running my government assume that I’m an idiot.

      • Ask Hanifa Shabazz who paid for her riverfront condo. Ask her to produce proof. She got away with stonewalling on this several years ago, which I assume to mean Buccini-Pollin gave her at the least a sweetheart deal.

        Best-case scenaria, she’s stupid enough to sue someone who brings it up, which would open her up to discovery. But at the very least her double-dealing should be exposed. She’s a snake and always has been.

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