Opinion: Use of how federal funds used in minority communities divides organizations, County Commission | Chattanooga Times Free Press

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More than $1 million was awarded to two local minority organizations by the Hamilton County Commission 16 months ago, but never spent.

That money, in a commission vote two weeks ago, was earmarked to improve facilities at area schools as part of a larger plan to improve the athletic fields of two minority public high schools (The Howard School and Brainerd High School).

Naturally, the two minority organizations awarded federal funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) are not happy about the move.

Trust us when we say we have a lot to solve.

In the year When the first payments to the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga and the Sankofa Civic Engagement Organization were made in July and August 2022, job-seeking county commissioners were distributing some of the county’s $71 million in federal funds before a new commission was installed. The next weeks. Outgoing Commissioner Kathleen Geter fielded both questions.

› When one of the funds donated to the City League was presented, the relevant budget was requested, but it was never received and federal funds are only used for organizations that serve the wider society. Board Minutes “One Nation.” Getter went on to say that the organization served all nationalities. Regardless, the resolution authorizing the Urban League funds ultimately passed 8-1.

› When it was supposed to be allocated to the Sancofa fund, Getter asked that the money not be sent to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, which holds the group’s funds, but to the organization itself. Commissioners did not take up the unusual request but passed a resolution approving the money 8-0.

› The funding change requested two weeks ago, by Commissioner Lee Helton, was a late addition to the commission’s agenda, so many commissioners rightly said they didn’t have enough time to examine all the issues at hand. But all who spoke, including commissioners representing minority communities, supported reinstating the money.

› When asked by the commissioner whether the two award-winning organizations had no financial support, County Finance Officer Lee Bronner said that making the change “would be more obvious if we did something today.”

› On Monday, City League and Sancofa representatives said they wanted the money “immediately”. In doing so, the commission declared in a statement that public meetings violated state laws requiring adequate notice and that any action taken at a meeting without adequate notice would be “null and void.” (The meeting had proper public notice, but the agenda that made the change was late additions. However, the commission often did not—but to the disdain of some commissioners—late additions.)

› The company’s statement says that “the money was discussed without… discussion”, but the commissioners had a long discussion on the money and whether the change request should be removed until today, and they did not decide to go. Tune in to Brouner’s advice.

› The agencies’ statement also cited federal ARP language that states that any funds allocated should include COVID support for “impacted” and “disproportionately affected” units due to pre-existing disparities. (Of course, most of the ARP money allocated had nothing to do with the pandemic. The same goes for City League and SANCOFA awards, and for that matter, athletic fields. Even though it’s related to Covid, it’s already being used.)

› Although the organizations say that “schools are a big factor”, the change is caused by “confronting each other” organizations.

› In a statement to reporters on Tuesday, Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp said “the Urban League and Sancofa are ineffective in the way they invest in the community” and — in a statement to reporters, citing office supplies, coffee machines and a $25,000 glass wall — “some “The community is saddened by how funds are being used,” he said. They said that they do not believe that the commission will return their money to the companies.

If it was ours:

1. In the summer of 2022, we would not allow the commission to spend, but we insisted that every budget expenditure be passed on its own merits.

2. We asked why the Urban League and SANCOFA did not spend the ARP money, they tried to convince them to support the athletic fields and we promised to help with the street impact costs.

3. We will put in place some rules – even if emergencies cannot be foreseen – to reduce the number of items placed on the Commission’s agenda at the last minute. Such surprises do not respect public transparency, often make commissioners appear unprepared and often force hasty decisions.

All that said, we believe ARP taxpayer funds are better spent on public schools than private organizations.

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