The city was expected to approve grant awards for 24 social service agencies on Tuesday, instead it approved awards for 20 agencies after it emerged that a number of councilmembers were closely associated with some of the organizations set to receive grants.
Ruby Cotton, the 4th Ward councilwoman, who is connected with Headstart, an organization that works to improve the self-esteem of urban teenagers, and Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, who is on the board of the Paterson YMCA, an organization that runs a senior fitness program, recused themselves prior to the resolution’s introduction. Both organizations were set to receive funding from the city through a council vote. With two councilmembers unable to vote and with Anthony Davis, 1st Ward councilman, and Rigo Rodriguez, councilman at-large, absent, only five council members were left.
Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large, who is connected to the Hispanic Multi-Purpose Center, initially voted for approving the funds, but later realized he too had a conflict of interest. “I need to recuse myself from this vote too,” said McDaniel, with one sentence ending quorum, minimum number of councilmembers needed to hold a legitimate meeting.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman and council president, soon realized he too had to keep himself from voting because he holds a position with New Jersey Community Development Corporation, the organization that runs the charter school on Spruce Street. Sayegh is an advisor with the charter’s Paterson Youth Council.
“This is something we should take to the next workshop,” said Sayegh, when only three councilmembers were eligible to vote on the resolution.
“Is Councilman Davis going to be here next week?” asked Charles Thomas, the city’s business administration, in an effort to do enough to allow passage of the resolution. Sayegh attempted to bring in Morris.
“Even if you’re serving on a board without getting compensation it’s recommended someone recuse themselves?” asked Sayegh, after Domenick Stampone, the city’s head lawyer, stated the council was being too sensitive on conflict of interest.
“Absolutely,” answered Stampone.
“I think we take some of these things a little too far,” said McKoy, observing the farce that was taking place. McKoy defined conflict of interest as having a large stake with forthcoming financial benefits. “This is almost a routine item that you had nothing to do with that was vetted through the department and being presented now with no financial benefit for you whatsoever,” said McKoy.
Julio Tavarez, the 5th Ward councilman, wanted to split the resolution so as to bring back quorum. By splitting the resolution it would allow for at least five members to vote, and thereby passing the resolution in a piecemeal manner. “To me that looks more orchestrated and wrong than qualifying the relationship that exists,” said McKoy. The 3rd Ward councilman said it’s much better to disclose the association and vote for it.
“There’s a concern that organizations are operating unfunded,” said Stampone, pointing out that for some agencies this is their lifeblood. Councilmembers removed the four conflict-ridden organizations, and approved the rest.
Aspira, a pro-education non-profit, received $10,000; Boys and Girls Club, an organization that facilities after school activities for youths, received $10,000. Three programs run by Catholic Family Community Services: Adult Day Satellite, an elderly daycare provider, received $12,000; Companionship and Escort, a transportation provider for the elderly, received $13,000; Senior Outreach, an information provider that helps seniors find helpful assistance programs, received $15,000.
Grandparents Relative Care, an organization that helps elderly individuals looking after relatives, received $15,000; Inner City Ensemble, an organization that exposes urban children to art, received $10,000; Madison Avenue After School Program, a afterschool hangout for elementary school children, received $8,000; Division of Senior Service and Veterans Affairs, an organization that looks after war veterans, received $83,109 – largest grant award.
St. Augustine After School Program, received $9,000; Trailblazers, a summer camp program for the disadvantaged, received $25,000; Youth Service Bureau, a program that provides a different environment for at risk juveniles, received $22,000; School Based Youth Service Program, received $15,000; St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, an organization that helps fight homelessness and hunger, received $15,000; United Presbyterian Church, which runs an after school program, received $6,000.
Well of Hope, an agency that helps promote better habits for urban women suffering through substance abuse, received $8,000; Council on Aging, a senior citizen service provider, received $2, 551; Mayor’s Council on Handicapped received $2,551; Municipal Alliance, a program that provides helps to substance abusers, received $15,920; and Paterson Instructional Football League, an agency that helps youth football teams in traveling, received $8,869.
The four organizations that were extracted: Hispanic Multi-Purpose Service Center, $25,000; Jumpstart, 8,000; Paterson YMCA, $8,000; and the New Jersey Community Development Corporation, $8,000; have been split into two separate resolutions that will be approved during Tuesday evening’s council meeting.