Wednesday, August 9, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Last month, the Maywood Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept a $10,000 restorative justice capacity building grant from Cook County, but the board’s approval of the funds didn’t come without a lengthy, sometimes tense, debate about whether or not the money was secured appropriately.
According to the grant proposal documentation (see here and here), roughly all of the money would be used to pay for personnel who would work with staff members at Proviso East High School and PAEC (Proviso Area Exceptional Child) to provide “hands on mentoring” [sic] of at-risk students and “wannabe potential gang members.”
The personnel include one program manager paid at $20 an hour for a total of 160 hours (a total of $3,200 over the life of the program), a program facilitator paid at $19 an hour for 160 hours (a total of $3,040 over the life of the program) and two activity leaders paid $12 an hour for 304 hours (a total of $3,648 over the life of the program).
“Once in the school we can interact with the students, their parents and come up with a plan to steer them in the right path,” according to the proposal.
The grant personnel would also “work with the court system (probation & parole), police stations and see what individuals they earmark as individuals who need help in coming back into the community,” “come up with training for future jobs our youth can embark upon” and maintain a database that “will be created to keep up with all names, resources available, needs and direction this youth would be best in following” [sic].
But during a July 12, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee meeting, Village Manager Willie Norfleet and the village’s contracted attorney, Michael Jurusik, expressed strong reservations about approving the grant as it was presented by Trustee Isiah Brandon and Mayor Edwenna Perkins — both of whom are listed on the original grant paperwork under various titles, including “agency contact,” “grant administrator,” “budget contact person” and “authorized contact for contractor.”
“I have serious concerns about this application,” Jurusik said. “This [application] misrepresents what your role here is in the village and you shouldn’t file and continue to pursue this.”
Jurusik added that board members “are legislators; they are not administrators and are not to be involved with the day-to-day activities of managing money, receiving money, putting budgets together and grant writing. That is not what a village trustee or mayor does. Mayors and trustees set policy, pass ordinances, [approve] documents and agreements, pay bills … [those are] your roles as elected officials.”
Norfleet concurred, explaining that applying for and managing grants “should be an administrative process and not the process of elected officials.”
Jurusik recommended that village staff members make changes to the grant application before the board eventually voted on its approval at a regular meeting on July 18.
Brandon said that the grant was for a Safe Summer program that he started before he was a trustee and that he’s continued to operate, with the help of other community members, since being elected. The program pairs young people in Maywood with volunteering and job opportunities, as well as a range of activities.
“We received this grant last year and the cutoff for reporting was for October,” Brandon said. “We decided to use the grant for what we applied for and that was for the Safe Summer programming.”
Brandon said that he discussed the details of the grant with Norfleet before he presented the proposal for board approval. He and Perkins also said that they weren’t getting any money from the grant.
“No dollars from this grant have been spent on myself,” he said. “I have no problem with changing anything. Let’s correct it and move forward, but when we were applying for this grant, that’s how it was setup.”
Perkins also noted that she had no problem with the recommended changes, but didn’t agree with Jurusik’s and Norfleet’s characterization of her and the trustees’ functions.
“We’re not administrating anything,” Perkins said. “There’s no problem to change the information on it … It boils down to if you, the trustees, don’t help this village get funds … to get things done, we will be sitting here with nothing. We weren’t trying to pull the wool over nobody’s eyes … We don’t have anyone sitting here coming up with funds to run this town so you do what you have to do.”
Brandon seemed to indicate his agreement with Perkins about trustee functions, explaining that “identifying resources is part of our jobs” and that board members should “make sure we have programs and services in place for our constituents.” He added that he’s been “identifying dollars to bring back to the neighborhood” before he was a trustee.
The whole exchange turned out to be a trial by fire for new trustees Tony Sanchez and Kimyada Wellington, both of whom are still feeling out their new roles since getting elected to first terms in April.
“Thank you for whoever found this grant, we need the money dearly in this community,” Sanchez said. “I was just curious as to what was occurring, because if I were to find a grant, I’d have to go through the proper channels.”
Sanchez requested that the village administrators move forward in making the changes to the grant application after asking for clarity.
“The last thing we want to do is say, ‘We don’t need this [money],’ because we do,” he said. VFP