Last Minute Request for COVID Cash Requirements Review

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COMMENT | Jacksonville City Council is expected to consider on Tuesday providing $ 500,000 in federal COVID-19 relief money to a non-profit organization run by one of its own members, City Councilor Reginald Gaffney, allegedly to help the organization to recover from the economic damage associated with the pandemic.

In one respect, the city says the potential grant to Gaffney’s nonprofit, Community Rehabilitation Center Inc., is not remarkable: every nonprofit that applied for federal help received a grant. grant, provided that these groups have been able to navigate the administrative process.

But most of the nonprofits that approach the city don’t claim a well-connected city council member as their leader, and there are few organizations and officials in Jacksonville considered as closely linked to each other. other than Gaffney and CRC – a pair with a controversial, history dating back to Gaffney’s founding of the organization, which helps people with mental illnesses and addictions, 30 years ago.

Following:Reginald Gaffney: A History of Political Machine, Money and Corrine Brown

Following:Jacksonville garbage collection could benefit from $ 4 million in federal salvage money

The inclusion of the Community Rehabilitation Center in the list of groups to receive money came at the last minute: it was part of a surrogate bill that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration submitted to the Finance Committee on Monday. advice, explaining how the city wanted to spend $ 141 million in federal COVID-19 funding. CRC’s presence on the list was so recent that the administration had not yet been able to provide a copy of the contract that Gaffney would have to sign to receive payment.

There is no written record to explain the genesis of this request, nor any document showing that $ 500,000 represents the true economic loss suffered by the non-profit organization of Gaffney (Gaffney must sign a contract attesting the veracity of request for a grant before CRC can get the money).

Still, the finance committee, headed by city councilor Ron Salem, had no questions about the group’s inclusion. The full council will take up the matter on Tuesday.

Gaffney, reached on Friday afternoon, said he knew nothing about the grant application, which was processed by another staff member. He said he was deliberately staying away from funding requests involving the city and was not aware of the potential of $ 500,000 until the finance committee meeting.

“I can assure you that none of this will go into my pocket … assuming they [CRC] get it, ”he said.

Gaffney said his nonprofit was “no different” from others with ties to council members who receive money from the town for utilities and said he was “unhappy” that some people draw conclusions about the CRC.

Despite its alleged economic woes, CRC appears to have landed more COVID grants this year – including a $ 4 million grant from the federal government – that it only claimed in total annual income and net assets in the years leading up to the pandemic, according to the latest available financial documents from CRC and federal and local data on COVID-19 subsidies.

CRC also received a $ 331,000 relief grant from City Hall last year, funded by a previous federal pandemic program from the Trump administration, and secured two check protection loans. Recoverable payrolls – one last year and one this year – from the Small Business Administration totaling nearly $ 660,000 (it is not clear whether these loans will or have been canceled).

CRC’s annual budget in recent years has been around $ 3 million.

The Community Rehabilitation Center has faced many controversies dating back to the mid-1990s: concerns from state officials about nepotism in its hiring practices, favoritism shown by powerful Jacksonville elected officials, and past allegations. Medicaid overcharges that were fined.

Gaffney founded the group as a three-person startup in 1993 and today claims it employs over 60 people.

Something else about CRC makes it more noteworthy than most nonprofits that receive money from town hall: CRC is financially tied to separate organizations, including for-profit corporations, which Gaffney also oversees, and which can make it difficult to discern the full profile of the work actually carried out by CRC.

Some of these groups appear to have significantly different goals than CRC.

One of those groups is called Total Beauty Institute Inc., where Gaffney is president and which received $ 65,000 from CRC in 2019, according to a CRC audit report from that year. The group’s website says the organization is dedicated to “transforming lives for quality education in the world of beauty.”

Another such group, Community Rehabilitation Center Transportation LLC, a for-profit subsidiary of CRC, received two federal paycheck protection loans last year and this year: a payment of $ 350,364 in April 2020, which was canceled earlier this summer, and a loan of $ 238,981 as of February of this year.

Gaffney was paid $ 74,000 to lead CRC, according to his latest financial disclosure form filed with the state, but he does not list any income from these affiliated organizations. It only lists $ 60,000 in assets from “closed businesses”.

Political links

Gaffney, a Republican-turned-Democrat, has long been a minor Jacksonville political actor with ties to former US Republic Corrine Brown and many well-paid Republican donors. For years, CRC has paid Brown’s daughter for lobbying services, and the nonprofit has found support from Brown itself for congressional assignments.

Gaffney told my colleagues and I several years ago, for a profile we wrote about him, that he sometimes used CRC clients, whom he calls “consumers”, to help turn off problems. political posters and distribute campaign flyers.

Prosecutors had assigned numerous CRC cases in the run-up to Brown’s federal tax fraud and torts trial (in which she was convicted, although an appeals court later ordered a new trial). Neither CRC nor Gaffney have ever been charged with wrongdoing, but the federal government has presented evidence that Gaffney and his groups were a source of money for the former congressman (he said he had gave Brown money because she was like a mother to him).

Following:Former US representative Corrine Brown guilty of 18 fraud and tax charges

Following:Convictions overturned for ex-US Rep. Corrine Brown after judges found error in removing juror

Prosecutors and Brown both listed Gaffney as a potential witness, but neither side ended up calling him to the stand. “Here is my prayer: once people read my side of the story, they will make up their own minds, but they will see that I am as innocent as possible … nonprofit has been doing it for 25 years,” we Gaffney said at the time.

Today, Gaffney is running to replace limited-time State Senator Audrey Gibson, and he’s using his extensive ties to Republican business leaders to fund his campaign. A political committee that he controls has raised $ 220,000 in donations, including contributions from the Jaguars.

Conflicts and poor outlook

Several board members have ties to nonprofits that receive money more regularly from town hall than from CRC, but Gaffney’s request illustrates a persistent problem and more important than the board’s current practice – members of the board having these links only have to recuse themselves from voting on these positions – fails to respond.

The mere fact of recusing himself from a vote does not really satisfy the clear conflict of interest at stake: it is clear that board members are uncomfortable questioning, let alone withholding funding, to their members. colleagues, who often see each other as friends.

Another example: waiting in front of the council, a grant of 100,000 $ to the Clara White mission, directed by another of its members, Ju’Coby Pittman. The city has long supported Clara White, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing homelessness, but last month, five members of the management board resigned, citing a “lack of transparency” from Pittman and other issues with his leadership.

“We all have a fiduciary responsibility and manage the CEO, who manages the organization,” a statement from the board members said. “The lack of transparency… from the CEO has made our work a constant struggle. “

Following:After a “constant struggle” with CEO Ju’Coby Pittman, 5 members of the Clara White Mission board have resigned

Following:Clara White Mission CEO Ju’Coby Pittman denies accusations by former board members

Pittman denied the allegations, but it was a surprising story nonetheless and remains an unresolved controversy swirling around the nonprofit and Pittman.

Yet his fellow council members have had little to ask or say about it, even as they are about to vote on the $ 100,000 grant.

The board must adopt new policies to deal with these situations. The deafening silence does not work.

Nate Monroe’s City column appears every Thursday and Sunday.

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