Economic Development Committee members this week rejected a city staff plan to give $50,000 to the Evanston Community Development Corporation to hire a temporary manager to help the non-profit reorganize.
Instead the committee decided Wednesday night to have city staff come up with an alternative proposal under which the city would hire a consultant to do the job.
ECDC, which was formed in 2003 to stimulate business development on the city’s west side, has struggled in recent years with organizational issues after receiving several grants from the city for various programs.
The projects have ranged from providing micro-loans to startup businesses to a urban gardening program that provided career training for ex-offenders.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the latest proposal from ECDC provided no financial statement or evidence of what fundraising the group’s done or what money is available for the group’s micro-loan or other programs.
“I can’t imagine how we can give money to an organization without knowing their financials,” Burrus said.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the new proposal had been developed at his urging and that there weren’t financial reports because city staff knew that the group’s “coffers are largely empty.”
“I think this is an opportunity for the city to be supportive and help them get back to doing good work for the community,” he added.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she saw the proposal more as a request for startup funds — but with a board in place that has a history of doing some work.
ECDC Chair Bill Smith said the group has been working with a consultant on a rebranding and renewal process over the past couple of years.
Smith conceded that “We were tring to do too many things and not doing them so well, so we decided to focus more on depth and less on scope.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested that the city hire a consultant for the group and supervise the person’s work.
“I think I would feel comfortable with that,” Wynne said.
After some further discussion Bobkiewicz agreed to revamp the proposal along the lines Wynne proposed and bring it back to the committee for its April meeting.
Disclosure: As far as either of us know, the Bill Smith who heads ECDC and the Bill Smith who publishes Evanston Now are not related.
What seems lost on our City fathers and mothers is that ECDC existed back in the mid-seventies and was already being supported or helped in many ways by the City. They were used as a vehicle for many housing rehab programs on the West side with the Federal money going to them to adminster the projects, find contractors and pay the costs, rather than the staff at the Civic Center. Many of these projects ended in failure due to lack of adequate staff or experience at ECDC. If as ECDC's Smith indicates, they are looking into rebranding, they need to dump the name, which carries a lot of baggage for those who remember that sad history and an executive-director who did little but collect a saalry before moving on to Washington, DC and "bigger and better things".
In addition, ironincally, they were housed in that same building on Church that the contractor's group now wants to rehab with "external" , i.e., City funds. In fact the City paid lots or funneled Block Grants for having that building rehabbed back in the 70's with little to show for that money but a crumbling structure.
It would seem, based on comments made as to the former gas station-cleaning store across from the Police Headquarters, that you only need to find a building that is in bad shape in order to get funding from the City regardless of any past history. What is unfortunate is that business persons or owners that went about things without coming to the City for "assistance", i.e., the "good old American way" of doing things, find themselves at a disadvantage when coming up against those who were subsidized.
What is the actual track record of ECDC?
Truthferet has an interesting post.
I was wondering what exactly the group has done since 2003?
They list very general accomplishments in their application, but they really need to provide more information along the lines of amount of money spent on projects and some sort of evaluation and measurement of success.
You would think that after nearly a decade of operations, they would have this info.
The only thing I know about them is that they sponsor that West End Market. It is a good concept. However the execution–having it run at the same time as the Evanston Farmers Market–is poor.
As I noted, I believe their history goes back nearly forty years. They might have reorganized but then why keep using the name of a failed organization unless you are, in fact, the continuation of that same group, albeit with different players.
I see where someone, aside from one alderperson, has questioned their financials. If any one of us can read those documents why has the City staff not done so and sent the request back without wasting public time?
Lack of oversight is how that group wasted earlier grants and funds. Why allow it to continue without demanding better accounting and responsible operation? Is this also an example of how other grants and funding is monitored and approved? Hopefully not, but "if there is smoke,……."
Where are the financials?
"I can't imagine how we can give money to an organization without knowing their financials," Burrus said.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the new proposal had been developed at his urging and that there weren't financial reports because city staff knew that the group's "coffers are largely empty."
I don't understand why they aren't able to get the financials. Their 990's from 2008, 2009, and 2010 are available online. Surely they must be submitting their 2011 tax forms soon, if they haven't already. It's simply not possible that there just aren't financial reports. Any organization that requests money should at least submit financials!
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