A normally perfunctory vote to submit Community Development Block Grant requests to Union County took on a bit of drama Monday when Councilman Cory Storch voted "no" over being snubbed in the review process.
The CDBG program consists of an annual submission of proposals from social service and housing agencies for federal funds. After review and ranking by a city committee, the requests are passed along to Union County's Bureau of Community Development for final rankings and approval. Storch, who is chairman of the council's Economic and Community Development Committee, voted "no" on the resolution to submit the CDBG requests because he was not informed of the review meetings.
Al Restaino, who directs the Office of Community Development that administers the program locally, said invitations were sent to the council, vendors and the public. He said it was just "one week ago" that he heard there was a council representative. Restaino, now also the head of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services as well as acting city administrator, then characterized the Citizens Advisory Committee as "thirty-three people from community organizations that no longer exist."
Restaino said the city's share of CDBG revenues in Union County went from 16 percent of the pot to 28 percent of the pot last year.
The response apparently annoyed Storch, who said, "I just voted for you as acting city administrator. Don't make me regret it - don't make excuses."
In a 2009 post, Plaintalker voiced concern about the review process, which that year was conducted by five citizens and two City Hall staffers. It is true that some of the organizations named in the CAC ordinance are defunct, but others, including the Plainfield Public Library, the Housing Authority of Plainfield, the Board of Education, the Planning Board and Chamber of Commerce, could be tapped for participation. There could be as many as 14 citizens on the CAC, one each appointed by the seven council members and seven by the mayor with advice and consent of the council. In addition, the council president is supposed to be a member.
Surely as Economic and Community Development Committee chairman, Storch should have been included, even though the council committees are a 2006 innovation created by the late Councilman Ray Blanco. At the City Council's annual reorganization in January, Council President Annie McWilliams and Councilwoman Bridget Rivers were also named representatives to the CAC.
Restaino was hired in January 2005 with the title of confidential aide to the Public Works & Urban Development director. He was later named director of the Office of Community Development in the PW&UD department, with the CDBG program as a primary assignment. In November 2010, he was named director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, one of three departments mandated by the city's special charter. But he retained what had formerly been his full-time job in the other department, and for two weeks has also been serving as acting city administrator.
The cycle of the CDBG program includes submission of applications for funds in the fall. A legal notice was published this year with a deadline of Oct. 7 for submissions. Sometime between then and Monday's council meeting, the applications were reviewed and ranked. The county review takes place in the spring and the funding will come through later in 2012.
If there is any interest in having more than a handful of people reviewing and ranking millions of dollars worth of CDBG proposals, there is plenty of time to amend the ordinance and appoint people. Storch will begin his third term on Jan. 1 and will likely retain his roles on the Planning Board and the Economic and Community Development Committee. He should at least be apprised of the 2012 CDBG meeting dates when they are set.
The complete list of applicants for the current year's CDBG program funds is on file in the City Clerk's office, if anyone wants to take a look. The full text of the CAC ordinance is posted on the city web site under "Agencies, Boards & Commissions."