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We must start holding our local administration accountable for their actions. Recently, legislation was presented in a way where it was misleading and expected to be “rubber-stamped” while being designed to bypass Federal Regulations using City Council as a scapegoat.
It is not a secret that Covid has played a role in complicating the system we all live and work in. A once easy process is now complicated by closures, layoffs, and lack of resources. I feel that the complications we are all facing have also started to create a dangerous and unfair environment where some think it is OK to drag our feet in the name of “COVID.” City Council is typically a go-to when foggy foresight meets 20/20 hide side. The saying then is “well council passed it” even after being force-fed the catered information. This was the first time I had openly heard “we will let the council decide” while being presented with legislation that was suggesting City Council overlook federal regulations.
During the latest city council meeting on May 3rd, 2021, the planning department requested that City Council “decide” on legislation that would approve the annual budget for the CDBG. This type of request is not uncommon for budgets, but this specific request was very different.
CDBG stands for Community Development Block Grant and is a program through the federal government program HUD. The CDBG program improves low-income urban areas through decent housing and by expanding economic opportunities. The budget is approximately $660k and is a great grant program for our communties.
What made this legislation request different was that City Council was informed by the Planning Director that if the budget was not passed in a timely manner, we could be “dinged” in future allocations from HUD. However, City Council officials were led to beleive that it was OK not to adhere to the 30-day public hearing requirement. Some council members even went as far as agreeing that it needed to be passed as suggested by the planning director. In fact, the CDBG budget has a deadline of August 16 of the Federal Fiscal Year to be accepted. Why the rush to pass this budget with the suspension to the Barberton City Charter, Emergency Wording, and in violation of federal regulations?
How is it OK to deliberately attempt to defy federal regulations that are in place to protect and afford transparency to the residents of the City of Barberton?Justin Greer – City of Barberton Councilman Ward 1
I applaud the council members and law director that stood up against this attempt. I am genuinely disappointed in the administration for even thinking this is remotely acceptable. Regardless of the date that legislation needs to be passed, the government should NEVER overlook the rights of the people. This will never be OK as long as I am around.
According to sections 570.440 & 570.431 of Title 24 of Federal Regulations, the CDBG budget requires two public hearings during two different stages of the budget creation process. The Public comment period MUST be NO LESS THAN 30 days. As presented, the CDBG budget was expected to be passed by suspending the rules of the Barberton City Charter, which would be in violation of the sections mentioned above. This was all meant to be done using City Council as the culprit in case the federal government found out the administration did not adhere to the regulations.
(Source) CDBG Regulations: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div5&view=text&node=24:22.214.171.124.4&idno=24
How do we remedy this type of behavior? Those in the position of making decisions need to be proactive and transparent. City Council can not be put against the wall every time regarding legislation that even we (City Council) are given just days to understand before “the sky starts falling.” The days of “rubber-stamping” have been gone making it surprising this would happen.
The administration needs to start to be more transparent in their actions and their plans. The effort that is put into being secretive would easily cover the effort required to be proactive. This type of transparency would incubate trust, transparency, and integrity across the board. It would become commonplace to be transparent.
Fixing these issues will take a robust Council President as well. The issue is not one-sided in this matter. The president of the council needs to establish a channel between the executive branch and legislative. The president needs to be a voice for the people as a whole and ensure that the elected City Council Officials of Barberton have the right tools, information, and guidance to represent their constituents fully. Currently, this is all lacking and can be changed in November.
As one can imagine, this budget is now under heavy scrutiny and will go a full three readings. I encourage the public to reach out to [email protected] and request a copy of the budget so that you too can follow along and understand where CDBG monies will be allocated.
You can view the full Barberton City Council meeting below: