Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Money to charities not a donation, council president says

Hicks-Hudson says donation
not really a donation.
After 11 members of Toledo City Council voted on July 23 to give $20,000 to the African American Legacy Project and $30,000 to the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center, I wrote to them asking why.

After raising our water and sewer rates, not reducing the trash tax to zero as promised, putting a parks and recreation levy on the ballot last year because they just didn't have enough money, and continuing to raid the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) fund in order to balance the yearly budget, you'd think additional spending would be rejected.

Not our council. So I asked them:

If these organizations are so worthy of support that you must give them our limited tax dollars, how much of your own money have you given to them?

At-large councilman Rob Ludeman said they were 'worthy' organizations, but he hadn't given to them of his own personal funds because he had "never been asked."

District 2 councilman and mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins balked at answering such a personal question, despite an earlier press conference in which he released his credit report and said candidates' finances are relevant:

Mr. Collins opened the door into his personal finances during a morning news conference, when he said the candidates’ finances are relevant for voters. “The next mayor will become CEO for the city of Toledo and will be in charge of nearly a half-billion-dollar budget,” Mr. Collins said. “Transparency on how mayoral candidates handle their personal finances is key for the citizens of Toledo in making their decision on who is best qualified to lead the city.”

He didn't give to the AALP of his own funds either, though he is a donor to the University of Toledo, but not the UAC specifically.

At-Large Councilman
Tyrone Riley
At-Large councilman Tyrone Riley responded with this:

Thank you for writing me with your concern. I support both organizations. The organizations in question serve a viable and important role in our community.

But does 'support' mean in principle or with actual personal funds? I'm still waiting for the answer to that.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson was late in responding, but apologized. Her positions is that these are not 'donations.'

I wanted to let you know why I supported the two ordinances. Sorry for the delay. The African American Legacy Project is an organization that is working to preserve, restore and exhibit the contributions of African American Toledo citizens. They moved into the Ascension Church building and are working toward providing a stabilizing asset to this corridor. As you know, the Toledo Art Museum is less than ½ mile from the location. These funds will assist the Project in its mission and will be an asset for all people in this community. The funding to The Urban Affairs Center is actually an agreement for research and technical assistance for city council. Council is somewhat limited in its ability to acquire best practices, specific research on various issues that we face in our roles on council. Thus it is not a donation.

Further, I do not view the funds to the AALP as a donation. But, as part of their annual fundraising efforts, I have contributed to the project, as well as others.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

I can understand her belief that the money sent to the UAC was not a 'donation' because they do perform various research projects on numerous issues. They also do surveys and polling. But according to their website, they charge a fee for those specific projects to the requesting entity. Toledo has not asked for anything specific, so the $30,000 was for the overall work they are doing. What determines the exact nature of the payment is whether or not it was sent to the UT Foundation, as instructed on their web site:

Individuals interested in supporting the UAC may make tax-deductible contributions to:

The UT Foundation
Driscoll Alumni Center Rm 1002
MS 319
The University of Toledo
2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, Ohio 43606

If this is where the city sent the money, then it's a tax-deductible donation, regardless of what Hicks-Hudson says.

And since this is tax dollars, where are the charitable donation receipts for each Toledoan?

Hicks-Hudson also writes that she "doesn't view the funds to AALP as a donation."

Which begs the question: if you do not consider it a donation, what would you call it?

And that's what I asked her in my reply.

Perhaps she should re-read Ordinance 331-13 (emphasis added):

Authorizing the disappropriation of $20,000 from the General Fund, Safety Administration and the appropriation of said amount to the General Fund, Office of the Mayor; authorizing the expenditure of $20,000 from the General Fund as a contribution to the African-American Legacy Project; and declaring an emergency.

I also asked if council had a policy regarding such donations/expenditures that set forth the criteria for consideration and, if not, when they would be developing one.

I'll let you know if I get a response.

No matter what they call it, this is an unacceptable use of our limited tax dollars.

Council has no business picking and choosing charitable winners who get public funds. The fact that there is no criteria for determining what organizations, if any, are the recipient of the council members' largess with other peoples' money is completely beside the point, but it makes this particular action worse.

Our personal favorite charity is Mobile Meals of Toledo. While we donate to a number of charities, this one receives our time as well.

What if they asked council for $20,000? Certainly they're 'more worthy' of funding than a department at a publicly-funded university, right? MM feeds people after all - would could be more worthy than that?

Would they get $20,000? Or would the fact that they don't have a personal connection to either the mayor or members of council mean their request would be ignored - or not be given the same priority?

If you're wondering about that last reference, you need to read this:

What was interesting is that in 2006 the organization's total contributions were $24,476 and only $7,467 in 2009. That makes a $20,000 contribution from City Council look even more suspicious. And it gets better.

On the form's list of "Officers, Directors, Trustees, and Key Employees" (none of whom, according to the form, received compensation), I found two familiar names--Dr. Cecelia Adams and Norman Bell, Sr. Isn't that interesting? Geez--I bet it's only a coincidence that a TPS board member and the mayor's father are key individuals in the African American Legacy Project.

Perhaps every 'worthy' charitable organization in the area should ask for $20,000 of taxpayer funds. Maybe then council - and the mayor - would realize what a huge mistake they've made.

On second thought - maybe not. They'd probably have to borrow even more money from the CIP to do so.

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