Elyria Council president wants to remove mayor from distributing ARPA funds

Elyria Council president wants to remove mayor from distributing ARPA funds

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  • December 20, 2022
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Elyria City Council president proposed at a Dec. 12 Finance Committee meeting to take the administration of distributing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds out of Mayor Frank Whitfield’s control and into a separate authority.

Early in the Finance Committee meeting, members learned of $515,000 in encumbered funds and an approximate remaining $485,000 to allocate.

Those funds will be rolled into next year’s budget, officials said at the meeting.

When the city was planning its local program for the American Rescue Plan Act funds in November 2021, it adopted a written policy and procedure handbook for programming offered through the act such as the essential services and business program, according to the document submitted by Elyria City Council President Vic Stewart.

At the recent Finance Committee meeting, Stewart asked members to support his idea to take the administration aspect out of the Mayor’s Office to some other “decision-making committee,” the document stated.

“The existing structure of the programs are inconsistent,” Stewart wrote. “Under the Small Business Program, applications are reviewed and approved through the Elyria Economic Development Committee.

“Essential services applications are reviewed and approved through the Office of Community Development and Mayor. In an effort to provide consistency among the programs and to allow transparency, it is recommended the policy and procedure manual be amended to have all future essential services applications reviewed and approved through a decision-making committee such as Council or a quasi-legislative, quasi-administrative committee established by Council, such as the Elyria Economic Development Committee.”

After a lengthy discussion at the meeting, Ward 1 Councilman Andrew Lipian asked Stewart a series of questions which ended up in a harsh tone.

Reviewing the essence of Stewart’s proposal Lipian asked him, “Did I understand that correctly?”

Stewart replied, “I just want to make sure that the 2022 essential services current budget needs are being addressed and we’re in compliance with everything we need to be doing.”

Earlier in the meeting, Stewart brought up a problem with a previous funding request for the Neighborhood Alliance project which made a request beyond the application guidelines under essential services and needed to be moved into the capital improvement fund.

Law Director Amanda Deery suggested the change would avoid any appearance of impropriety.

“Have there been good interactions with the mayor seeking Council’s input on various essential services, application and the desires of Council and a general good corroborative relationship established there?” Lipian asked.

Stewart didn’t answer Lipian’s question initially.

Stewart first reiterated his stance on the matter closing with, “No, I don’t think there’s anything like they’re doing something for this person over there or that. No, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“So, there’s no assertion of opacity on the part of the mayoral administration,” Lipian said, adding perhaps instead of transparency, the operative word would be oversight.

“Okay, Mr. Lipian. I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s okay,” Stewart said. “… At this point the conversation is going to be done.

“I’m the chair and this is what we’re going to do.”

Lipian countered that “the chair does not have that power.”

Deery interrupted Stewart’s objection and Lipian continued saying his constituents have concerns about what legislative body would be in charge of appointing the committee members should the idea take hold.

The matter is expected to be discussed at a future meeting.

In March, Whitfield announced that his office had distributed funds to 22 businesses which received a total of $725,766 through the first round of the America Rescue Plan Act small business grants.

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