Friday, June 29, 2007

Scorched Earth. To the victor goes the spoils -- NOT. Blowback of Pgh Dems with envy and attitudes.

The weekly free newspaper called the South Pittsburgh Reporter had a rather long article about the recent behaviors of lame-duck city councilman, Jeff Koch. Mr. Koch is a Democrat who lost his bid to resume as the party's endorsed candidate for the general election. A four-year term goes up for election on November 6, 2007, for city -council district 3. Jeff Koch won't be on the ballot.

But some of the groups that were expecting some cash from the city council's office -- think WALKING AROUND MONEY, have been given a snub. And, the snubbing is clearly because of Jeff's recent loss at the polls.

Go figure. We've got Dems who promise and don't deliver. We've got Dems who are quick to spend money that comes from the taxpayers. We've got citizens who are silenced -- or else. We've got nonprofit groups that show their greed.

Councilman pulls funding for area community groups
Councilman Jeff Koch has changed the funding to nearly a dozen community groups receiving money from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

For at least the second time in his short tenure, Councilman Koch has used his discretion with CDBG funding to withdraw promised money to some community organizations and award those funds to others.

On Wednesday, June 13, 2007, the councilman proposed legislation that rescinded funding from: Allentown Community Development Corp., $4,000; Beltzhoover Citizen�s Community Development Corp., $2,000; Federation of War Veterans, $2,000; St. Clair Athletic Assoc., $2,000; South Side Local Development Co., $2,000; and, the Urban Mountain Gathering Place, $2,500.

The same legislation increases CDBG funding to the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, $2,000; the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council Cheerleaders, $1,000; My Brothers Keeper, $2,000; the South Side Athletic Assoc., $3,000; and, South Side Saber's Youth Football Assoc., $3,000.

The additional amounts increase the amounts for each of the athletic associations to $8,000 for this year, a total of $7,000 for the two Beltzhoover neighborhood groups and $5,000 for My Brothers Keeper.

When questioned about the changes last week, the councilman admitted that at least two of the reductions in funding were related to the organization's board members supporting Mr. Koch's opponent in the last election.

When Councilman Koch was asked about the changes he said that the Beltzhoover Citizen's CDC owed "$80,000 in back taxes" and he wasn't giving them any more money.

According to the Allegheny County Website, the BCCDC owes approximately $3,900 in back taxes on three vacant lots and three buildings including the Hilltop Health Center on Climax Street.

Connie Wellons of the BCCDC explained that some of the back taxes are a mistake that they are working to clear up. She said the organization has paid some of the taxes in the past to "keep (the properties) off the sheriff�s block."

She said one of the properties in question, 121 Climax Street was originally purchased to be used for the Hilltop Health Center. It was later found to be too small for the center�s purposes.

Ms. Wellons said the building is now slated to be demolished by the city, with the BCCDC reimbursing the city for the work.

"What he's trying to do, is divide two organizations in a small community," she added.

Ms. Wellons said she would have preferred that the councilman has come to the organization and "help us" instead of reducing the funding.

"Jeff Koch is not the most honorable of politicians that we know," she said.

In reducing the South Side Local Development Company's allotment from $2,000 to $0, Councilman Koch said the Mayor�s Office was providing money to the organization and he didn't feel the need to give them any more.

According to SSLDC officials, the organization is receiving funding from the Mayor�s Office this year in the amount of $10,000. It was noted that this was the first time or at least in recent history, that the mayor has provided funding for the 25-year-old South Side organization.

The councilman's explanation for cutting the funding to the Urban Mountain Gathering Place, a non-profit gathering place on Mount Washington whose mission is to support at-risk children in the neighborhood, was simply that he "didn't think they benefited the community."

Mr. Koch said he reduced the Federation of War Veterans grant of $2,000 down to $0 because they hadn't used the money and it was just sitting there.

The councilman also increased the grants to several organizations. When questioned about increasing the grant for My Brothers Keeper, an out of district organization, from $3,000 to $5,000, Mr. Koch said the organization would be operating a program in Beltzhoover this year.

Last week, the largest increases for the biggest total came to the South Side Sabers Youth Football Assoc. and the South Side Athletic Assoc.; both had their grants increased to $8,000. Mr. Koch explained that he increased their grants because they worked with kids and the previous councilman didn't provide funding to the groups.

A check of records indicates that during Councilman Gene Ricciardi's tenure, he provided the Sabers with $5,966 in CDBG funding and the South Side Athletic Assoc. with almost $17,500. In addition, the former councilman provided support for the organizations for South Side Park Baseball Field and Quarry Park through Public Works and Neighborhood Needs money.

The biggest surprises came when Councilman Koch admitted that the reductions to the St. Clair Athletic Association and the Allentown CDC were politically motivated.

Mr. Koch at first said that he cut funding for the St. Clair AA because the organization recently received $30,000 in city money. When it was pointed out that there is a difference in what CDBG funding could be used for compared to Neighborhood Needs money the councilman elaborated further on his decision.

He said that on Election Day, members of the St. Clair AA Board of Directors were working the polls when an Arlington resident whose mother had recently died came into the building. At this time according to Mr. Koch, one of the SCAA directors said that, "his mother would be turning in her grave if he voted for Jeff Koch."

Mr. Koch said the comment just wasn't right and gave it as the reason for cutting the funding.

Questioned about the $4,000 reduction in the Allentown CDC�s funding the councilman said that the group "had a lot of money sitting there for a long time and they were just recently starting to spend it."

Without prompting, Councilman Koch added that, "a lot of their board members worked against me in the last election�so I cut them."

The week prior to the election Allentown CDC vice president Ken Wolfe took photographs of a city Redd Up crew wearing political t-shirts on the job, a violation of the rules. In addition, Tom Smith, editor of the South Pittsburgh Reporter, serves as an officer on the A-CDC board and endorsed Mr. Koch's opponent in the primary election.

Neither man was acting on behalf of the A-CDC when they took their respective actions. The A-CDC took no position for any candidate in the election.

A-CDC president Judy Hackel reiterated that the organization took no position in the last election. She said that it was "inconsiderate" of Councilman Koch to take away the funding after the A-CDC had planned and budgeted for using the money.

Further review of the boards of directors for the organizations that had their funding cut turned up similarities, including board members who individually supported Mr. Koch�s opponent. The organizations that had their funding reduced didn't support one candidate over another in the election.

However, some of the organizations that received funding increases seemed to have ties to supporting Mr. Koch's reelection bid. The South Side Sabers and South Side Athletic Assoc. were both listed as having made contributions on campaign financial documents the councilman filed in his election bids. In addition, one of Mr. Koch�s staff, Dawn Jones, is a board member with the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council.

CDGB money is used by community groups for a variety of purposes including but not limited to paying for utilities, supplies and equipment. In order for the funding to be utilized, the organizations must submit a budget, have that budget approved and submit receipts showing the organization has already spent the money before it is reimbursed.

Each of the nine city council representatives receive about $75,000 in Federal funding each year to distribute at their discretion using the CDBG guidelines. Although city council approval is needed to disburse the funds, generally the funds are distributed according to the individual council representative�s wishes.

Occasionally the funding is rescinded if the organizations leave the money "sit" for a long while without spending it. This process often takes years before the council representative acts.

According to city officials, the council representative must submit the requested changes for the CDBG funding to the director of the program in City Planning. The director drafts the legislation and submits it to city council for approval. After city council approves the changes the only notification that is required is for city planning to publish the changes in a legal notice. It is not required for the community groups to be notified that their funding has been changed.
- South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor

Great news reporting to the South Pittsburgh Reporter. But, make no mistake, the South Pittsburgh Reporter has been happy to endorse the D opponent of Jeff Koch. Before the special election in March of 2006 a "news" / "editorial" ran that was suspect in my opinion.

No comments: