VOL. 131 | NO. 105 | Thursday, May 26, 2016
Council Committee Probes Grant Requests
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council Budget Committee Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. likens it to the television show “Shark Tank.”
Instead of entrepreneurs, leaders of nonprofits made their pitches to the budget committee Tuesday, May 24, for grants from the council as part of the budget process.
And Ford kept a strict five-minute time limit for each organization.
“Do not read all 50 pages,” he warned them of lengthier Power Point presentations.
The pitches continue Tuesday, May 31, before the final back-up sessions Ford built into the timeline. By June 7, he wants the full council to vote on budget committee recommendations on the grants, the city operating and capital budgets, and the city property tax rate.
The budget committee has recommended changes to the city’s operating budget that before Tuesday’s session had reduced Mayor Jim Strickland’s $667 million operating budget proposal by $1 million net. The committee has already reduced Strickland’s $85 million capital budget proposal by $1.5 million.
Both net totals are likely to change in the wrap-up because of the grant proposals and other items council members seek to add to the budget.
“It doesn’t mean we have to use all of our savings,” Ford said at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting.
Wayne Ingram pitched $50,000 for the National Tourism and Heritage Association, an organization that he described as “inner-ism” with a “tone team” to “set a tone of overall community inclusion” for visitors to the city.
Council member Martavius Jones got no answer when he asked how many people the program has served since it was created in 2007.
Ford tried again with the question, but quickly added, “Never mind.”
Jones said the organization’s 990 form, or financial disclosure, for this past year shows $17,450 in revenues, all for salaries.
“All of it was in-kind,” Ingram told him. “Everything was pro bono.”
Jones, who is a financial planner, said that’s not what the form is supposed to show.
“That’s not what this document says,” Jones added.
“It’s not a gray area,” council member Worth Morgan said, adding the Internal Revenue Service has a black and white view of what the information on the forms is supposed to mean.
“We have never been audited,” Ingram replied. “There may be a letter in my mail box tomorrow. But there’s no letter today.”
The committee gave him a second chance to make his pitch next week.
The organization “U Can” was rejected, with no second chance for the $27,000 in city funding it sought. That was after Jones found that although the organization had raised another $35,000 toward a budget of $62,000, only $18,800 of its revenue last year reached the students it was helping “dress for success.”
The rest went to salaries and fixed expenses.
Ford questioned whether it was consistent to not give “U Can” a second chance but then give National Tourism one.
“Consistency doesn’t mean that everyone gets something,” Jones said.
Council member Joe Brown favored every request that came to the committee during Tuesday’s session.
“It ain’t nothing but reparations what you’re doing today,” Brown told other council members as he tried to convince them to vote for the grants.
The committee recommended $70,000 in city funding to the 30-year-old Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, with council member Janis Fullilove moving for the funding before festival founders David and Yvonne Acey completed their pitch.
When Jones tried to amend the amount to $50,000, council member Patrice Robinson asked how much the Memphis In May International Festival got from the city.
“You don’t want to go there,” Brown told her.
But Jones, who has served on the MIM board, said the city doesn’t fund the festival and the Riverfront Development Corp. charges the festival for the use of Tom Lee Park.
“This is the only African-American festival in the inner-city,” council member Jamita Swearengen said. “I don’t understand.”
Jones ultimately voted in favor of the recommendation.
Morgan passed on every committee vote saying he had just received information about the organizations.
“They may be the second coming,” he said. “But I don’t know that.”
He also said there are legitimate questions about why these organizations get grants and other nonprofits in the city don’t.
“It’s who you have a relationship with,” he said of the city government grants.