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Councilman lodges protest on funding

A request to rubberstamp the Empowerment Zone budget and a 3-week-old federal audit of local housing programs sparked an Ironton City Council debate Thursday night.

Friday, September 24, 1999

A request to rubberstamp the Empowerment Zone budget and a 3-week-old federal audit of local housing programs sparked an Ironton City Council debate Thursday night.

Councilman Bob Vaughn read a prepared statement opposing council’s resolution to support the first year funding contract with the city for the federal Ironton-Huntington, W.Va., Empowerment Zone.

Primary objections center on an audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of its programs administered by the city and the Ironton-Lawrence County Area Community Action Organization, Vaughn said.

No one was notified of the audit, although "the mayor is full aware of why this is taking place," he said, referring to recent questions about HUD program dollars spent in the city.

Until the results of the audit arrive, Vaughn said he would not favor contracts with the CAO.

The Empowerment Zone grant – written by city officials and chambers of commerce from both states and the CAO – allows specific areas of each city and South Point to receive $100 million in grants during the next 10 years, although first year funding totaled only $3 million.

Grant money does not pass through the state, but is paid directly to lead agencies like both city governments, Operation Be Proud and OUSC among others, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said.

Councilman Joe Black said the audit came because of recent questions about "dots on a computer map" that incorrectly summarized use of HUD dollars and is a separate issue from the Empowerment Zone.

And the audit is a matter of procedure because of three anonymous phone calls to HUD from local residents, Cleary said.

The audit is primarily of federal funds given to the state government, and the state government is passing the audit on down to the CAO and requesting some city paperwork, he said.

"I don’t have it in written form, but it’s my understanding there have been minimal, if any, things found," he said

But the mayor added that some audited projects date back to the early 1990s, which makes it difficult for auditors, and could take time and cost the city when it’s already strapped for cash.

Councilman Jim Tordiff took exception with not being notified of the audit, whether it is standard procedure or not, but agreed that it was a separate issue from the Empowerment Zone.

"We’re supposed to be promoting the city We’re the ambassadors," Tordiff said.

Questions and allegations should go through the proper channels, but city officials should be professional and work together, he said.

Tordiff applauded council members for trying to do the right thing but said throwing accusations out that could damage reputations bothers him.

Council chairman Jesse Roberts apologized for not seeing the need to notify council when he learned of the audit, but urged Empowerment Zone support.

"This resolution, nowhere does it address HUD money," he said. "We would be standing in the way of progress."

Councilman Hugh Scott said he favored grant money that will help the city but could not support the zone resolution because of unanswered questions about HUD dollars.

Council approved the resolution 5-2, with Vaughn and Scott voting no.