Friday, October 08, 2010

8 OCT 10: Pricey Papers?

It's an inevitable part of the journalism business. Get to the bottom of one story, and suddenly five other people want you to get to the bottom of theirs. And if the "journalism business" won't do it, people will go to any outlet they can. It's sort of like a legal secretary calling her attorney boss, to request prescription drugs.

We've been trying to resolve one rumor a day since we returned from vacation. Today's item actually arrived by e-mail right before the road trip, three weeks ago....

Hello Richard,

I've noticed you have been doing well to keep anonymity on letters sent to you regarding things going on that need to be put to light. Since the TV stations are too lazy and cheap to do investigative stories (as they rely on Google Maps instead of using actual video with their stories), I want to make you aware of the following.

Last year, HUD gave Columbus over $700,000 to be used in the next three years for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP). The HPRP program helps families who are either homeless or are facing homelessness and need assistance with rental, mortgage or utility payments in order to stay in their home.

Anyway, I was told by a reliable source that the Enrichment Services Program has to pay back to the HPRP program $200,000 because either:

1) Their paperwork did not verify that the clients requesting funds from the program actually meet the qualifications.


2) The paperwork didn't verify who the funds were being paid to such as landlords or utility companies.

3) Some other reason that I am not aware that would call for paying back the amount granted.

Liz Alcantara is the local agent (appointed by the City of Columbus) who is responsible for the handling of HPRP funds in Muscogee County. She is also the director of the Homeless Resource Network.

Alcantara is requiring Enrichment Services to payback $200K otherwise the City of Columbus would have to pay up when it's time to report to HUD.

Belva Dorsey is the CEO of Enrichment Services....

This message leaves out an important fourth option - that the source may not be reliable at all. But of course, that's the option which would hurt the most and be funny the least.

"Completely erroneous" is how Mark McCollum described sections of this report to me Thursday. McCollum directs the Columbus city government Community Reinvestment program, which oversees the federal homeless money. He quoted the exact amount as $740,903 - perhaps allowing for beggars to raise 97 more, to round out the total.

Mark McCollum explained we're talking here about federal stimulus money. And indeed, it's a two-part program. Part of the grant helps homeless people find housing. Another part helps people avoid foreclosures. This format means the two groups probably won't cross paths -- and no handover of furniture allows the economy to grow.

But what about the Enrichment Services Program? Mark McCollum told me the agency has "not paid back anything, nor has it been asked to." That leaves the impression everything there is above board. But I admittedly didn't ask if the $200,000 has been moved temporarily to a Swiss bank account.

Liz Alcantara with the Homeless Resource Network referred me to the city, after saying she was working with the Enrichment Services Program on the HPRP money. If only the federal government had called this the "Homeless Prevention and Housing Program" - so we could call it HiP-HoP.

Mark McCollum put it bluntly - nothing happened involving the Enrichment Services Program, and the report is a "falsification." But E.S.P. chief executive Belva Dorsey put it a little differently when I talked with her. She said the Homeless Resource Network asked her to submit revised paperwork, in a different format. So this all could be a matter of Microsoft Excel versus Microsoft Word.

Belva Dorsey added the revised paperwork was submitted to the Homeless Resource Network more than a week ago. But she agreed that the Enrichment Services Program has NOT been asked to pay back any money. So compared with an E.S.P. preschool kitchen recently flunking a city health inspection, that could be an improvement.

The larger issue for me in all this is how Columbus city government is spending more than $200,000 per year on homelessness. A task force report this week indicated more than 1,500 people are homeless in Columbus on a typical night. So the stimulus grant comes to less than $200 per homeless person - which I don't think could even cover a down payment in Bibb City.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: Oh dear - it appears Thursday's Blog Exclusive with the Columbus Mayor didn't please anybody. The first message reached us during the morning....

Mr. Burkard,

I have read your blog regarding the conversation you had with Mayor yesterday. Pretty good job, and I do appreciate a good, humorous take on events.

I just wanted to let you know that I am the Executive Assistant to Mayor Wetherington and have been for these four years. My main duty for him has been to keep his calendar and point him in the right direction for meetings and events, taking care of his mail, etc. I do many other things in my position as well. Since Judy Thomas, Executive to the Mayor, left (we miss her very much), I have taken on as much of her work as I am able. The office also has two Administrative Assistants in the front office to answer calls as well as countless other duties. We are down to bare bones in terms of personnel to handle all the work with which this office deals.

I say all that to just let you know of the personnel and hierarchy in this office. AND I wanted you to know that I know what a blog is and how to create one, how to subscribe and read one. It was not me to whom you spoke yesterday when you called. I am not saying that I feel as comfortable in speaking for Mayor Wetherington as Judy was, but I am able to answer some questions and certainly to make sure you get the answers you want and/or need from him.... I look forward to speaking with you anytime.

Well, that wasn't too funny, was it? I'm sorry but I was a little offended at your remark about his current assistant not knowing what a blog is.

Yours in humor,

Jennifer Butcher

Executive Assistant to

Mayor Jim Wetherington

I didn't name which "assistant" answered the phone at the mayor's office - but indeed it was NOT Jennifer Butcher. Butchers do know how to cut people down to size, don't they?

I also didn't realize Mayor Jim Wetherington actually has three "assistants" -- at least with that word in their titles. If they think that's a "bare bones" staff, imagine what could happen if Paul Olson becomes mayor. His "desk" could move into the lobby, so he can answer all the calls himself.

So my apologies for not understanding the structure of the mayor's office. And now for the other side -- an e-mail which came Thursday night:

Mr. Burkard,

The Godson issue is hardly the meat and potatoes issue here. The factual evidence of double standard is the real issue. With all that we know has occurred, the shameless favoritism, would all at least make some sense if Chief Meyer were the mayor's Godson.

However, it is not hard whatsoever to determine who is telling the truth and who is not telling you the truth.

Through the Georgia Open Records act you may request the February 9, 2009 document generated from a cursory investigation pursuant to CFEMS Battalion Chief Janice Bruner's Fair Treatment Report submitted to HR Director Tom Barron. Internal Auditor John Redmond recommended a comprehensive top to bottom investigation of CFEMS in that report. With the serious issues that Chief Bruner listed in her report, there is no logical reason that the mayor would not act on the internal auditor's recommendation except that he was protecting Chief Meyer.

Chief Bruner submitted a letter stating that there were witnesses that would testify support her claim higher ranking officers had committed the same acts before. John Redmond never spoke to these witnesses during his investigation. Why would he not? You can get the document upon request .

There is documented evidence that Chief Bruner informed higher ranking officers in a letter dated February 4, 2008 of the incidents with 2 inch screws and damage to vehicle tires, which was all before the December 2007 incident with the BC's vehicle. You can get that document. Chief Meyer told the mayor it was 13 months before he heard anything of the vehicle incidents. The mayor told the Council the same story and John Remond also told Council the 13 months lapse in time was an impediment to his investigation. The documented evidence shows no such issue in the report. It only became a factor when the mayor claimed it was the truth. Truth is it was not.

There are numerous documents you or you audience may purchase or review under the Georgia Open Records Act. No one has to take my word. In fact, I do not ask you to take my word. The mayor only gives you his word because he cannot offer you factual documented evidence. He will bring Chief Meyer before the Council but neither councilors nor mayor will summon Chief Bruner and ask he questions on CCG-TV. What does the mayor and Council not want taxpayer's to know about this entire situation? I contend that the mayor cannot order an independent audit or an independent GBI investigation because he knows the CFEMS cannot withstand the scrutiny. It will reveal too much.

If we are lying all the mayor has to do is present documentation that the employee in question had those 88 hours pay that were awarded to him. He cannot produce one shred of documented evidence to support the claim the employee had the time. We have never seen such evidence and that evidence would have been public information. What you have when you purchase or review the February 2009 investigation report conducted by John Redmond is Chief Meyer claiming the employee had the time he was awarded. There is no proof presented to the internal auditor. There is no proof in the record. John Redmond does nor demand proof as internal auditor or compliance officer. How would that even occur after the formal complaint of one of the highest ranking officers in the field?

What you will find in the record is a number of days and hours that were altered in Lotus Notes at Command Central for it to appear Battalion Chief Bruner herself committed fraud.

Do the Open Records requests and the information speaks out for itself. Have the mayor to produce documents to back up what he is saying and prove every word of what we have claimed since June is a lie. He never has and he never will. If he could he would have by now. Any citizen with an ounce of sense knows all the allegations I have leveled against the mayor, not a one of them has he actually refuted. He simply talks around the issue and blows smoke. He is hoping he can continue to play the public for fools for the next 90 days.

Chief Bruner could prove the employee did not nor could not have had the 88 hours he was awarded by Central Command. Central Command officers never proved the employee had the time. It is just that simple.

If the mayor has documented evidence, I publicly challenge him to produce it to refute the illegal awarding of these 88 hours that Chief Bruner reported were awarded but unearned by an employee. The citizens deserve more than his word if he has more than his word. If he cannot produce, you then know the truth. All he has given us so far is smoke and mirrors. I doubt if you ask him anymore on the subject you get as much as you got the first time.

Sadly, our fellow citizens are not interested in CFEMS tax dollars going missing. Parks and Recreation dollars are more important to them just like they are to Mayor Wetherington.

God bless,

Brother Love, Director

Grassroots Unity Movement for Change

It may sadden C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon even more to read this - I suspect more Columbus residents were interested in the denied rumor about the mayor's alleged godson than 88 hours of time cards.

Instead of having me pay for copies of Columbus city auditor documents, wouldn't it be nice if ALL of John Redmond's reports were posted on the city website? They don't seem to be there. In fact, a search for "parks audit" didn't bring up any of the documents that led to the firing of Tony Adams. Recreation centers will never get any shuffleboard courts this way.

Oh yes - the latest e-mail from C.A. Hardmon was titled: "Mendacity, Mendacity, Mendacity." Your homework assignment for the holiday weekend is to properly use that word in one of his paragraphs....

We'll work on other fiery issues while you do that -- but now let's check the relatively quiet news of Thursday:

+ Several Columbus radio stations spent the entire day off the air. The websites of co-owned WDAK and WHAL explain transmitter work is being done this week. But what's wrong with WFRC-FM, the Family Radio station? Did their President misfigure his dates, and the world really is ending THIS month - one year early?

+ The Synovus board of directors named Kessel Stelling permanent President/Chief Executive Officer. The ailing Richard Anthony left that position in June, and now will become Chairman of the Board. With Synovus stock still selling for less than three dollars, no one is mispronouncing the name as "Kessel Stellar" quite yet.

+ The Columbus Chamber of Commerce introduced a new promotional campaign called "I am the Chamber." Somewhere in Chambers County, organizations must be kicking themselves for not thinking of that slogan first....

+ Georgia congressional candidate Mike Keown made campaign appearances in Columbus. So many campaign ads contain Keown's quote about doing "crazy things" that he should have his Election Night party at Loco's Grill.

+ Callaway corralled Spencer in high school football 47-7. This season is reaching the point that Spencer might want to borrow from the European news headlines - and change its nickname from Green Wave to Red Sludge.

+ Atlanta opened the baseball playoffs with a controversial 1-0 loss to San Francisco. The Giants' run scored after Buster Posey was called safe on a steal of second base. Atlanta's broadcasters declared that the wrong call - but if manager Bobby Cox didn't run out to argue, the umpires must have been right for once.

CORRECTED: + Instant Message to St. Luke United Methodist Church: I noticed the title of this weekend's sermon - "When a Good Case Is Not So Good." Is Mark Shelnutt delivering that message?

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