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HUD: City spent money properly

Continued investigations into claims that federal grant money was misappropriated in the City of Ironton are false, HUD officials confirmed today.

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

Continued investigations into claims that federal grant money was misappropriated in the City of Ironton are false, HUD officials confirmed today.

The accusations, which were made by Ironton City Council members Hugh Donald Scott and Bob Vaughn, were based on dots on HUD Internet maps that supposedly represented areas in which grant dollars were spent.

But those maps are not an accurate representation of where the city utilized the grant dollars, according to a letter signed by Rich R. Burk, director of community connections in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C.

"The projects you identified are not located at the sites shown on the maps," Burke said. "In fact, none of the project locations in the state/small city Community Development Block Grant Program are placed on the maps according to addresses."

Instead, when the maps were made, HUD chose to "scatter them randomly," rather than to try and place the dots in an absolutely accurate way, Burke said.

During Thursday’s council meeting, Scott and Vaughn defended accusations made by Scott during the June 24 council meeting that alleged the city "has misspent money for years."

Internet maps at www.hud.gov showed areas where funds were spent, and those areas were not the locations to which funds were given, Vaughn said Thursday. Vaughn further defended the maps’ accuracy, citing the lack of disclaimer on the site and promising an investigation into the alleged misappropriations would ensue.

But, HUD officials said the dots are inaccurate and the lack of disclaimer problems will soon be rectified.

"In order to clarify this situation, HUD will notify all users of the web maps that the locations of the state CDBG projects on the maps do not reflect their actual locations," Burke said in the letter. "Further, we will notify all users of Community 2020 Planning Software, from which the web-based application was built, of the method used to place state CDBG projects, and that the maps do not reflect the actual locations of the projects."

In a morning press conference today, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary, council chairman Jesse Roberts and Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization community development director Ralph Kline agreed it is a shame doubt was ever cast on the city’s money management.

"Not only was the reputation of a city advocate, Ralph Kline, bruised and battered; this city’s image was tarnished by the charge of improprieties that never happened," Cleary said. "It is unfortunate that two members of council chose to take the low road and place the city in that position. I believe the person who applies for a public position has a greater than average responsibility to act responsibly and represent the city and the residents well."

Although no resident or city official should ever turn away from investigating suspected improprieties, this incident could have been handled with greater concern for the city’s future grant applications, Roberts said.

"With one letter and one phone call, made by Mayor Cleary, Mr. Kline and myself, all questions and accusations were answered by Mr. Richard Burk and Mr. John Hartung of HUD in Washington, D.C." Roberts said. "If the council members who so recklessly made these accusations had spent only an hour in contacting the appropriate individuals, then all accusations of misappropriations could have been avoided."

While council members need always be aware and alert for any wrongdoings in office, they must act ethically and with respect to the citizens of Ironton, Roberts said. Failure to do so ends in embarrassment and false accusations such as these, he added.

Both Cleary and Roberts publicly apologized to Kline for any embarrassment the accusations might have caused to him personally or to the CAO.

"It’s not as though the programs are operated in a vacuum or in any type of back door manner," Kline said. "They are audited by outside auditors that are employees of the state, and state representatives of HUD visit the sites and inspect the work being done there. These programs are operated under a microscope, so to speak.

"We have an open door policy, and in the future, I hope any issues like these can be resolved more efficiently."