“I don’t understand it,” said Councilman David Dawson. “Why did we not realize that we had that kind of money sitting around?”
The city lost $569,794, the bulk of two federally-funded grants aimed at helping the homeless and people in danger of becoming homeless, which was being administered through the department. The councilmen said they were unaware the city had the funds.
The problems started when two women came forward at a council meeting in April 2010 complaining of being left homeless by unfinished work done on their houses through the city’s home improvement loan program for low-income residents, which was administered by the same department. The women said they had complained to Clarence Williams, then director of the department, but had received no help.
The Council immediately closed the office, placing a police guard at the door to ensure records were not tampered with and requested the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funded the loan program, to do an investigation.
Williams resigned as director of the Community Development Department in mid-May never having returned to work after the office was closed, leaving the funding largely untouched.
The Star has been unable to locate or contact Williams, despite repeated efforts.
The homeless grant, originally for $565,000, was a one-time grant. The $187,161 emergency-shelter grant is an annual grant. City Manager Don Hoyt told the council members he thought the city would be able to apply for that grant again.
Dawson though was concerned about the loss that could have helped the needy in the city. He wanted to know how it was overlooked.
The Council had approved the application for the homeless grant in June 2009. The grants were awarded to the city in late 2009. Williams, though, had been administering both the grants through the Community Development Department and not through the city’s Finance Department, Hoyt said.
“It (the grant) was done by the CDBG department and we didn’t know,” Hoyt said. “As soon as we found out about what was going on, of course we notified all the agencies that were expecting money to stop spending because we’ve got this mess to clean up.”
But the damage was already done. Shortly after the office was closed in April, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs pulled the remaining funding from two grants, the federal-stimulus-funded Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing grant and the Emergency Shelter grant.
“We did everything we could to retain the money. We did everything we could. But they took the money anyway.” Hoyt said. “Because they lost confidence in our ability to run the program I guess.”
Councilman John Spain said the Council would have to figure out what mistakes had been made in administering the program in order to create policies to solve the problems.
“That’s correct,” said Councilman Herbert Palmore. “You don’t learn from the past, you repeat it.”
In other business, the council discussed:
-- A proposal by Public Works Director Bob Dean to cut weekly brush pick-up to every other week in order to divert the man power to cutting lawns. The department is overwhelmed and needs to be able to focus on other work besides brush pick up Dean told the councilmen.
-- A request by the McClellan Development Authority on what to do with certain properties the city has shown interest in such as the Monteith Theater, the McClellan Theater, Yahoo Lake, Riley Lake, a parking lot on the north end of the city’s golf course, the railroad bed that stretches from Chief Ladiga Trail to Alabama Highway 21.
--- A letter from John Eagerton of the Aeronautics Bureau Alabama Department of Transportation instructing them not to enter into an agreement with the Alabama Land Trust until the Council receives approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and ALDOT.
-- An ordinance about city sidewalks which requires homeowners to maintain their own sidewalks.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.