Despite pushback, Council approves $4.6M in COVID relief for hand-picked organizations
The Jacksonville City Council approved a $4.6 million COVID relief spending plan for a group of hand-picked organizations in a 15-to-2 vote Tuesday. About a third of the groups receiving money have financial, personal or professional ties to the council member who chose them.
Council members Matt Carlucci and Michael Boylan attempted to push the proposed spending plan back to the council committees, calling for more oversight of the process of allocating public funds.
“This is not about bidding against anybody’s particular organization,” Carlucci said, “It’s about being a little more deliberate in our proceedings.”
But Council President Samuel Newby, who voted yes on the spending plan, called the attempted slow-down a double standard.
“Just because different organizations who normally don’t get money, get money this time, now we’re saying, ‘Oh let's pull back,'” Newby said. “We didn’t say that last year when we gave the zoo $4 million.”
Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson echoed his sentiment, saying the informal process favored organizations that don’t typically receive city money and allowed them to access COVID relief.
“Some folks who don’t traditionally come to the table are able to be supported to be able to do their good work,” Priestly Jackson said.
In the end, Council rejected the calls for more vetting and voted to give the money to the organizations they had picked as soon as possible. Multiple council members said they had promised their chosen organization the funds, and some had budgeted for the coming year based on those promises. Multiple organizations are receiving grants from two separate council members. All but one of the groups are nonprofits.
For this round of federal American Rescue Plan funds, council members were given $242,105 apiece to dole out to one or split between two organizations. The application for the grants was just two questions long, and the city has provided few details about how the organizations were vetted, other than they had to comply with federal regulations.
“We do, as an administration, procure a federal consultant that takes a look at each and every grant application to make sure they’re compliant with all ARP or CARES (Act)-related guidelines to make sure we’re spending the money appropriately,” city Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury told the Council Tuesday.
He did not provide further details about how the city ensured that funding is based on need.
The organizations have to spend the grants by next September and sign a contract agreeing to city audits.