Donald Trump is doing a first-class job as President of the United States.
When it comes to issues, he has made substantial progress during his 17 months in office on the Big Six:
1.) The economy.
2.) Energy production.
3.) Foreign affairs.
5.) The military.
No. 6 may be the most challenging of all. A contract that went before the Fresno City Council last week suggests as much to me.
The Development and Resource Management Department asked the council to approve an extension of its contract with Usona Development LLC. The original contract approved in March was for $49,999 and will expire on June 30. The extension is for $69,180 and runs through Dec. 31.
City Hall needs Usona Development to help it deal with Community Development Block Grant funds. (According to the proposed FY 2019 budget, City Hall expects to receive about $7 million from CDBG.)
“In March of 2018,” says a staff report, “a need for technical assistance in the management and application of CDBG funds was identified due to staff turnover, shortages, a lack of technical experience and capacity, as well as concerns over the monitoring and timely use of CDBG funds. In March of 2018, the City entered into an agreement with Usona to provide technical expertise in federal grants management and to assist staff with subrecipient agreements. Usona is a consulting firm that assists local municipalities and non-profits in delivering solutions to meet community needs.”
I take that to mean the proper handling of CDBG money is beyond the abilities of the current City Hall.
The staff report continues: “Since implementation of the Agreement, Usona has been instrumental in evaluating and revising program policies and procedures for staff input, reviewing and recommending changes to program implementation, assessing current report status, training staff, assisting with infrastructure projects undertaken by subrecipients, determining eligibility, preparing compliance reports, developing the Annual Action Plan, assisting in monitoring, properly documenting draw packages, receipting program income, and supporting and maintaining other funding source programs.”
I take that to mean City Hall has thrown up its hands in despair and outsourced the leadership of CDBG money to Usona.
The staff report concludes: “The First Amendment (to the original contract) will continue to focus on day-to-day operational oversight of CDBG, in addition to preparing responses to HUD monitoring requests and additional technical assistance requested by City staff, including but not limited to policies and procedures, implementation of annual planning process, HUD performance reporting and IDIS.”
I take that to mean City Hall doesn’t want to further anger the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The extension was on the council’s consent calendar. The council approved the deal with no comment.
Fresno for years has been trying to figure out how to properly spend CDBG money. I won’t bore you with a full recital of the failure. There was a long and highly critical HUD report issued in 2012 when Ashley Swearengin was mayor. There was an even longer report (also critical) issued in August 2017, some seven months after Lee Brand was sworn in as mayor.
Bottom line: Fresno often fails to spend CDBG money on things that meet HUD standards; Fresno often fails to properly document to HUD how it spends CDBG money.
City officials for years have vowed to do better. The Usona contract extension and the staff report accompanying it certainly suggest that City Hall still can’t crack the CDBG management nut.
The Community Development Block Grant program dates back to the Richard Nixon-Gerald Ford era in the 1970s. The “block grant” portion is relatively simple. Washington, hoping to simplify the distribution and spending of federal aid, would send big chunks of cash to cities. Relatively few strings were supposed to be attached to the money.
The challenge has been defining “community development.” It’s a term much like “public safety.” Just about everything a City Hall does impacts public safety in one way or another. The same is true for community development.
But it turns out that “community development” as in “Community Development Block Grant” is a very complex concept. It’s OK to spend the money on some things but not others. I’ve come to believe that the difference can get fuzzy. History suggests that city officials would agree.
Maybe it’s the CDBG program, not Fresno City Hall, in need of major reform.
President Trump has vowed to hack away at the excesses of the Administrative State, or the Bureaucratic State, or the Deep State (pick your favorite term). If he needs inspiration, President Trump might look at Fresno’s woes with federal red tape.