The subject of being accountable to their constituents and the request for more transparency was discussed at the Nov. 18, City of Hinesville council meeting.
Councilwoman Diana Reid once again questioned the funds that Assistant City Manager Ryan Arnold had reported on during their Oct. 21 meeting. At that meeting Arnold reported American Rescue Plans funds to cover emergency shelter, rent, mortgage and utilities was funded in the amount of $100,000, but the City still had a current balance of $77,196.66. However, at the Nov. 4, meeting City Manager Kenneth Howard said the amount reported by Arnold on Oct. 21 were for funds spent as of Oct. 1. He said applications continued to be processed and the amounts of families went from 17 to 52 as of Nov. 1. Because of the newly processed applications the new remaining balance was $18,123.22.
At the Nov. 18 meeting Ryan said the remaining balance was now $100.
Council had just heard a report from Arnold stating the City of Hinesville ARP small biz grant funds had $20,000 remaining after the third phase of rewards. The Councilmembers asked and then requested the remaining funds be allocated to the Hinesville Homeless Prevention Plan (HPP).
Reid agreed but with stipulations.
“That is fine,” she said. “But we had $100,000 allocated for mortgage rent and utilities which I have yet to actually have accountability for. So, I am hesitant of allocating more when I was refused to actually see where the $100,000 went…I am only one vote but I say wait until I’m positive that we have accountability for the $100,000 that you already have through the books.”
“I’ll agree with Councilwoman Reid on that,” said Councilman Karl Riles.
Councilwoman Nelson asked if the Council could access the report. Reid immediately replied saying she’s been requesting that information for months now at each meeting. She reminded Council that she and the rest of the council had been told they had to wait until the City Attorney looked into the matter to protect privacy.
But Reid added she went ahead and made a few calls on her own.
“I have gone as far as contacting the Treasury and Washington D. C. to confirm I can in fact see those reports,” she said adding she informed the City Attorney.
Nelson said she understood what Reid was questioning but didn’t want Council to hold up transferring the $20,000 remaining in the small business grant funds because people need help now.
Reid told Arnold the City needs to streamline the application process and do a better job of advertising funds available. She questioned how the HPP funds could be depleted so quickly if it was never advertised.
“One hundred thousand dollars is absorbed with no advertisement, please, tell me how?” she asked Arnold, filling in for Howard who was tending to a family matter.
City Attorney Linnie Darden partially agreed with Reid noting the Council does have a right to view those reports with provisions.
“As I told the Assistant City Manager just before this meeting, we’ve come to the conclusion as far as the prohibition of providing that information to third parties is concerned, I don’t believe, in my legal opinion, that this Council is a third party,” he said. Darden said the Council serves as agents of the City to retain information as well as having the accountability and the oversight to view information. Darden said some of the personal information may be redacted and he said the Council must not publish or share the information with anyone else.
Councilman Keith Jenkins asked if an audit or investigation may be requested if any Councilmember notices wrongdoings or errors in the report.
“I had several calls and people caught on to the same thing Ms. Reid caught on to, how did we one minute have $100,000 and the next minute we come back and say we don’t have $100,000,” Jenkins said. “It is going to raise questions. We as Councilmembers have an obligation if things are being done wrong, we can have it looked into further.”
Reid said when the city reported they still had $18,000 she had a woman call her who needed assistance. She referred the woman to the HPP immediately, and was told that same day there was no funding available.
“And prior to that the doors to Community Development were closed, did you all know that,” she asked her fellow Councilmembers. “The doors were closed. So, if you got $18,000 why are your doors closed to the public?”
Howard had previously noted the HPP office was closed briefly while they worked out some kinks transitioning to a Regional Coordinated Entry approach.
Reid said she isn’t making accusations but her constituents deserve to know how the funds were spent.
Councilman Jason Floyd redirected Council to the matter at hand, what to do with the $20,000. Nelson asked if the funds could be capped at $2,000 per applicant to help as many families as possible. The motion was made to allocate the funds to HPP with $2,000 cap and passed by Council, who plan to track those funds as well.
“I think it is important to understand that what councilmembers want right now is accessibility to the process and that these are not accusations of wrongdoing,” Riles said. “I don’t want anyone to think that we believe that there is some corrupt staff, that is not the case, we just want access to check and balance for the people.”