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March 20, 2007

NEW HEADSTART/PRE-SCHOOL BUILDING POSSIBLE—
PUBLIC HEARING HELD 3/19/07

Maybe if more people had realized just what the advertised hearing was all about, they would have shown up for the public hearing held Monday, 3/19/07 at 12:00 noon. However, only 2 citizens, the School Superintendent and his financial officer, and the editor of the newspaper showed up. NOT ONE of the School Board members showed up for the hearing. Sometimes we wonder if the School Board even knows what is going on.

The announcement in the paper stated:


The Jasper County Board of Commissioners will hold a Called Meeting on Monday March 19th, 2007 at 12:00pm. The purposes of the Called Meeting will be (1) To hold a Public Hearing on a CDBG grant request on behalf of the Jasper County Board of Education, and (2) To adopt a resolution on said CDBG Grant.

Since this advertisement was so vague, TWG requested information for exactly what the hearing was about. The County Manager informed up that this application was being made at the request of the board of education to assist them in building a pre-school/headstart facility. In addition we were told that these grants (CDBG) are only awarded to cities and counties so the county will act as a pass through for the grant.

If citizens will recall, we just voted in a $9.5 million SPLOST to not only build a new High School, but for the “construction and equipping a new Pre School Center at the Jasper County Primary School.” So why is more money needed? These questions and more we asked at the Public Hearing.

Here’s what happened at the meeting:

First, Chris McGahee of the NGRDC spoke about the grant. He said the schools were told by DCA to apply for a CDBG grant. He said there was a “shortfall” on funds to build the new Pre-K/Headstart Building. (TWG: How can there be a shortfall when no one knows how much was set aside in the first place? Or was any money really set aside?) He said the BOC would only be the applicant, but that the Schools (BOE) would bear all the cost associated with the grant, the building, etc. (TWG: However, there was a 2 page letter to DCA “certifying” that the BOC was responsible for the grant –and any and all problems was theirs (the BOC) to correct.) Mr. McGahee explained that this grant was “on the fast track” (Read this we’re pushing this through as fast as possible.) and that the BOE would pass a mirror image the next day. The grant request would then be sent to DCA and if it was approved, the funds would be sent to the County in September.

The citizens then had a chance to speak. First, TWG Chairman, Mary Patrick spoke. Her questions included:

1. How much is the RDC cut of the grant for administration?

2. She reminded the BOC that if they hadn’t read the certification, that no matter what they were told, THEY were responsible for the grant.

3. She recalled the “Walter Smith” CDBG grant where the County also took over and administered a grant for the City which turned out to be something the County got “stuck” with—investigations, hearings, sanctions, etc.

4. She questioned why the BOE didn’t sign the resolution FIRST and then ask the BOC to sign on? And wondered WHY this was on the “fast track.”

5. She felt it was an injustice to all the citizens that the ad did not tell what the hearing was really about—that is, building a new Headstart building—and why was it so difficult to let people know the details. There could have possibly been more concerned citizens attend if they knew what it was all about.

Next, Mr. Charles Forsythe spoke. He had the following comments:

1. SPLOST was for the Construction of the Headstart building, and this proposed grant is for the construction.

2. “Oversight IS the county’s responsibility because YOU are the administrators,” he told the BOC.

3. He felt there should be an indemnity agreement with BOE where they would bear all the expenses, administration, and anything else to do with the grant.

4. He asked if there was any match required.

After these comments and questions were posed, Mr. McGahee answered the questions as follows:

1. RDC or anyone who administered the grant was allowed up to 6% of the grant as fees—that would be $30,000. (There was already a letter to the RDC “asking” them to be the administrator of the grant.)

2. They were in a hurry because of “the late notice.” He didn’t explain what this meant.

3. He then said the ad was THE MINIMUM REQUIRED. Yes, folks, we love that new phrase. Our County Manager uses it frequently, and this is how “government” works—give out the bear minimum and keep those stupid people that send in their tax money in the dark as much as possible.

4. He further told the BOC that the resolution, the proposed “memo of understanding” that would detail the BOE was responsible for everything, and everything else they were doing was “a step above and beyond what is REQUIRED.” (TWG: Yes, but our Commissioners asked lots of questions because it was obvious they didn’t want to be stuck with another grant they requested and someone else benefited from. Our BOC was right in asking the questions they did and listening to the questions posed by the citizens.)
5. There was a match, which was 5% of any amount over $300,000 which would be $10,000. The BOE would be responsible for this.

6. He then told the BOC that they didn’t have to do this particular grant, they could apply for any other type CDBG grant, such as a Senior Center, etc. However, once they applied for this grant, if it was awarded, the County couldn’t apply for another grant for at least 12 months.

If the citizens had not attended and asked questions, the BOC would not have known about the match, the admin fees, the fact that a SPLOST had already been passed to fund the building, they couldn’t apply for their own grant for at least 12 months, etc. This information was not voluntarily put forth.

Both Comm. Pennamon and Comm. Bernard asked several questions and made comments. After saying he was concerned and asking the questions, Comm. Pennamon then asked Mr. McGahee if DCA would consider the grant if they had all this extra paperwork, such as the Memo of Understanding. It sounded as if he was concerned, but didn’t want to go through with all these extra safety precautions. He was assured by Mr. McGahee that it would show the DCA that they had really thought about all of this beforehand.

Superintendent Brinson then took the floor:

1. He said $750,000 had been set aside with the SPLOST money, but the cost would now be $1.5 million for a 12,000 – 14,000 sq.ft. facility (that’s well over $100/sq.ft.and 100 sq.f t per child).

2. He said they had they served 84 children in HeadStart and 40 in Pre-K right now and of course, if they didn’t get the money they would have to shut the programs down. (Don’t you hate these veiled threats of dire consequences when people/agencies/boards come to the BOC for money?)

3. He said the State doesn’t fund classrooms—this is a local issue.

Comm. Bernard then made one of his speeches, which is a normal occurrence when he wants to make sure everyone understands his position. Comm. Bernard informed everyone that he was totally for HeadStart; it helped the community by having educated children, which benefited everyone. He then stated that he had helped implement the Head Start program (when he worked in government).

The BOC voted to approve the resolution which underwent several major changes, including adding several detailed clauses outlining the BOE’s responsibilities, their agreement back to the BOC in writing, a memorandum of understanding, etc. The vote was 4-0. Commissioner Yarbrough was again absent.

TWG
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