The jury’s back on the flopped Grovetown project and the findings are no one did anything that violated a law, but there was more than enough incompetence and conflicts of interest on the parts of the city of Albany and the Cutliff Grove Church organization handling the low-income housing project to ensure it flopped.
As District Attorney Greg Edwards aptly put it, the project was a “bad business deal.”
Starting with the city’s initial denial of certification of Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center as a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) that was reversed five months later by city Department of Economic and Community Development Director Johnny Hamilton, who would later become a paid consultant of the organization he certified, the entire Grovetown development project was a boondoggle that ended up costing Albany taxpayers $374,715.
While an investigation by Edwards’ office did not find any money that was used illegally, it can certainly be argued that the spending was unwise. Basically, Albany taxpayers picked up the tab while a group of people who didn’t know what they were doing did absolutely nothing to help those with limited incomes get affordable housing.
Nearly $375,000 taken from the taxpayers and nothing — absolutely nothing — to show for it.
What the report by Edwards’ office did show, however, was that those involved with the resource center weren’t properly trained to qualify for CHDO status — as Hamilton’s predecessor Richard Wooten originally found — and didn’t have the experience to perform this type of housing project. On top of that, they had no experience and expertise in basic areas such as document control, creating budgets, controlling budgets, keeping records with employees and staff, spotting indicators of fraud and abuse, or spotting indicators of conflicts of interest and correcting them.
The city’s DECD personnel, who should have been its experts on this, came out looking just as bad, with the DA finding they had inadequate training in document control, the rules of CHDOs, spotting indicators of fraud and abuse, and having a working knowledge of how CHDO management budgets should work. The city’s finance department flunked as well, Edwards’ office found, by failing to recognize proper document control and indicators of fraud and abuse, and by failing to questions the payments the city was making with out approval in writing.
Failure seems to be the one consistency in this whole affair.
The prosecutor also said the city’s DECD and finance departments should have been on top of the conflicts of interest that ran deep in this project.
And that, essentially, is the problem. There was no accountability, and no system in place that would create accountability. As a result, a handful of folks made some money, the church turned a $20,000 profit on a land deal and the people with needs who were to have been helped were, once again, left out in the cold.
City Manager James Taylor says the city has addressed the shortcomings that led to this utter and complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We hope so. If not, Albany needs to stay out of the CHDO business until its personnel are fully capable of doing the necessary checks and oversight that will ensure the money is spent wisely and the people who need the help actually get it.