Out of the $13 million in federal grant assistance the city of Spokane doles out every year, about $3.6 million comes from a type of grant aimed at homelessness referred to as McKinney funding.
Today, we wrote about some difficulties the city's Community, Housing and Human Services department has had since its creation more than two years ago, including the loss of Salem Arms Community Housing as a partner.
It turns out that McKinney funding, which Salem Arms relied on for some of its housing, has its origin story in Spokane.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Foley in 1987, and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. At the time, Foley was the long time Democratic representative of eastern Washington and the House Majority Leader. Two years later, he would be elevated to be Speaker of the House and second in line to the presidency, only after the vice president. In 1995, after 30 years in office, he was defeated by George Nethercutt, and succeeded as speaker by Newt Gingrich. Foley died last year.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the McKinney act “was the first – and remains the only – major federal legislative response to homelessness.”
Today's story also cited a letter written by Councilwoman Amber Waldref to the CHHS director and board chairwoman. It's attached to this post as a document.
And below is Michael Cannon's response to Waldref's letter. Cannon served on Mayor David Condon’s transition team that recommended the department merger and was the first chairman of the CHHS board.
Dear Councilmember Waldref,
I regret to hear of your resignation from the board. We too have appreciated your involvement.
I feel compelled to respond as someone who has a vested interest in the success of the board, having been part of the Mayor’s transition team that recommended the formation of the CHHS Board, and also having chaired the task force that accomplished what was recommended.
If I may be candid, your reasoning seems odd and scattered. The information you shared appears to have come from an uneducated viewpoint. Though you took the time to commend the board and repeat how great of job everyone has done, how dedicated they are and what an impact their expertise is having on the lives of the citizens of Spokane, you seemed to also present a variety of excuses for why you would prefer to retreat to your corner and criticize the work of the board instead of participating.
Since you took the time to list issues and reasons for your decision, I will address each one for clarity.
Communication and Transparency –
You’re right, late notice for public hearings is a problem that is being addressed by the department, as they deal with new regulations around providing notice for various public meetings. However, I would suggest that is no reason for quitting a board. I will also not disagree with your assertion that quorum issues should not be a reason to limit attendance by board members at Executive Committee meetings. But be reasonable. These are procedural issues that are fairly new and the staff is following direction given to them by the City (which I assume is not unique to this board).
You mentioned receiving a letter from a grantee that “had received no communication for months” related to funding that had been awarded. I understand that is not the case at all, and I would invite you to speak with Jerrie or Jonathan to clarify the circumstances. You are aware of the complexity of the process and the number of awards that are part of the process. It’s unfortunate that a grantee would have an experience where they felt they lacked communication. But when it came to your attention did you help bridge the gap? Who was the grantee? Did you make Jerrie or Jonathan aware so the issue could be resolved? It’s exaggerative to translate that one circumstance into saying it’s “difficult for anyone to be productive and engaged under these circumstances”.
It almost seems as if you’re trying to find things to make an issue of, and excuses to resign the board. Excuses that actually have very little to do with the work of the board, but are aimed at the department.
CDBG and Neighborhoods –
I hear your concern about ONS not being efficient or effective answering technical questions for neighborhoods after the elimination of a position in CHHS. However, I would dispute that claim and cite your lack of any detail. In truth, survey results from the neighborhoods show good performance and positive feedback.
The process of neighborhoods communicating with the CHHS department seems pretty far afield from the work of the board, and as excuses for resigning go, is weak. There are many things that I (a board member who is interested in the success of the neighborhoods) would disagree with in terms of neighborhood issues. For example, the outcry around the building of the McDonald’s drive thru on Hamilton. But that is not germane to my work on the board. I trust that the neighborhoods can work with the City (ONS and CHHS) on issues that affect them and improvements to effectiveness and efficiency can continue to be made where necessary. This is not something I would expect a CHHS board member to resign over.
You spoke of a perceived disinterest in giving CDBG dollars to neighborhoods. This is simply not the case. In fact, had you been involved you would have seen the process by which the neighborhoods were included in designing a new process of allocating CDBG funds, based on mandated changes by HUD. All 27 neighborhoods were present (though attendance was inconsistent) in the meetings where a new inclusive process was devised and all their input was solicited.
The neighborhoods have had multiple training opportunities and online resources including a program guidebook and sample applications. Technical assistance has been offered to all. The same amount of CDBG investment is being made in the neighborhoods, with new opportunities to qualify for funding. There is even a new position in the budget to support neighborhood projects.
What causes you to think the board is disinterested in giving CDBG dollars to neighborhoods?
Alignment with City Priorities –
You mentioned your concerns include tension around the priorities, who sets them and how they get implemented. Remember, this board is merely advisory to the Council. The Council already has the final say over what the board recommends. Should the Board come to a recommendation that seems inconsistent with the Council’s priorities, you already have the ability to change direction and are in no way bound to the board’s recommendation.
Also remember that when we formed this board and consolidated the previous 3 boards, it was so important to the Council to have input on the new board, that 2 board seats were designated for Council members. Two. How many other City boards or commissions have two voting seats reserved for Council members? Since that time, the board has gone through a very deliberate process of setting goals and priorities, during which time those two council members have had a seat at the table and helped guide the discussion so that the board was aligned with the council.
Your point about some members of the executive committee suggesting cuts to Community Center funding only demonstrates the strength of the board and alignment with the Mayor’s and Council’s priorities. The idea was proposed and the board discussed it, considered the priorities of the Mayor and Council (and those of the board itself) and chose not to cut funding. By the way, there was a representative from the administration in attendance who made it clear the Mayor’s position was to support the centers rather than cut funding. The process works and we’re aligned. Even if the board would have recommended cuts, the Council still has the ability to override the board’s recommendation.
I’m not sure what you are after in asserting we need stronger executive leadership to “focus efforts of the board”.
Interestingly, you did mention Rob McCann’s concern about bonus points being given to applicants for funds who are within the Targeted Investment Pilot (TIP) area. I’m glad you brought that up. This concern was born of a directive we received from the Council. Having no prior discussion with the board, at a meeting a few months ago, you presented an ordinance sponsored by Council President Stuckart that directed the board to score applications for money more favorably for organizations applying for funds with the TIP. There was no discussion with the board or attempt to collaborate, just an attempt to mandate or force this advisory board to score applications according to the outcome CP Stuckart wanted. This seems to 1) negate the intent of having an advisory board 2) be contrary to a spirit of collaboration between the Council and Board where we can align our priorities (as you mentioned) and 3) create unrest in the community among those applying for funding who are artificially given an advantage or disadvantage based on the TIP. This concern was a result of the Council’s own action not the board’s.
If I were to sum up your letter, I’d say that you were resigning to try to prove a point or make a statement. However, the statement is unclear and seems based on an unrelated set of issues patched together to justify your decision while attempting to create a story around deficiencies in the CHHS department and board. You’re grandstanding. I find your decision to resign based on this list of excuses juvenile and appalling and not something I would expect from a City Council member.
Your letter said there is work to do. You’re correct. There is. And we will continue to do it despite having our work politicized by the Council to the detriment of Spokane’s homeless and low income citizens.