‘ve picked up a habit during pandemic times. Multiple times throughout the week, I head to the kitchen and make myself a large root beer float. The key in making a good float, for any rookies out there, is to start with a small amount of root beer in your (very large) mug. Then start packing in the vanilla ice cream. Don’t be shy. Then pause for a moment and add a little more root beer. Then more ice cream. Then dump the rest of your can of root beer on top. Ta-da. Creation complete. Grab one of those combination spoon/straw tools and you’re all set.
There are negatives attached to this new habit, of course, mainly that my stomach and my belt don’t always practice proper social distancing.
The buzz in many circles over the past week has been the Platte County commissioners giving away “small business” grant money. By now you may know the story. County commissioners have $12 million in federal CARES Act money. The state treasurer had asked that the county commission pass $6 million of that on to the City of Kansas City, based on the fact that Kansas City residents comprise 50 percent of Platte County’s population. Platte County commissioners, never known to be team players (as the library district, the health department, and others can confirm), have ignored other public agencies and focused on handing out dollars to private businesses.
Further down the list of potential uses of CARES money as outlined by the feds was “providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures.” So the idea is not unique, other counties are doing it. The difference is that no one can find a county doing it with such loosey-goosey generosity as Platte County’s commissioners.
The county commissioners are playing Santa Claus with tax money. It’s Christmas in July.
Making the optics worse, the commission is handing out thousands of tax dollars–and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of tax dollars- during an election year. It’s convenient timing for the commissioners to be playing Santa, with one commissioner (Dagmar Wood) on the ballot for re-election on Tuesday and two county commission-proposed sales tax questions on Tuesday’s ballot as well. After all, who would vote against Santa Claus?
Unlike other counties who have started similar grant programs, Platte County commissioners Ron Schieber, John Elliott and Dagmar Wood have not established any limit on the amount of your money a business can request. By comparison, Buchanan County has established a maximum of $5,000. In some other counties, the maximum is $10,000. No maximum in Platte County, baby, where it’s giveaways gone wild.
“This doesn’t pass the smell test,” one individual very experienced in the world of government service remarked to me last week. Spot on.
The grant giveaways are just getting started but already the county commissioners have approved $226,000 to one particular business. Mark and Mimi Comfort, owners of Cruise Holidays, might feel like they just won the lottery. Last Friday the county commissioners handed Cruise Holidays nearly a quarter million dollars. My gawd. Hard to fathom, isn’t it?
The county giving away $226,000 of your money to any individual business is over the top. Some would say ridiculous. And brace yourselves, because Cruise Holidays isn’t even the largest requester–there are others who have asked for more, believe it or not, including two hotels who want about a half million dollars each. Then there’s a dentist at Zona Rosa who wants $289,000, a surgery center is asking for $262,000 and something called College Nannies and Tutors is asking for $250,000.
Holy handouts, Batman! These are hardly reasonable amounts a true “small business” should be getting in a local “small business grant program.”
The list of applicants and amounts that appeared in last week’s issue of The Landmark is now available on the web at plattecountylandmark.com/2020/07/23/list-of-businesses-applying-for-county-g rant-money.
When you look at the list of applicants and the requested amounts of each, you can get a sense for which businesses are being reasonable with their requests and which applicants might be milking it for all it’s worth.
Gentle reminder that in the June 3 Between the Lines when, as the county was beginning to discuss how it would handle the $12 million, I wrote: “Distribution of this money–and the process used in doing so–has the potential to be a great thing. But it also has the potential to become a steaming pile of confusion, waste, abuse and cronyism.”
There are other angles to this story that are certainly not a good look. Remember, the county commission has final say on who receives grants and who doesn’t. Some of the applicants include:
*Undo, Skincare Center. He hasn’t returned a voicemail I left for him, but The Landmark has confirmed that documents on file with the Missouri Secretary of State list the owner of this business as James Kevin Robinson. That is Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson. Robinson’s personal Facebook page lists him as “laser technician at Undo, Skincare Center.” The grant request is for $44,386.25.
*Stephanie Schieber, wife of Platte County Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber. Stephanie Schieber’s name is on the grant application for the Southern Platte County Athletic Association, common name of Northland Sports Alliance, and sources say she runs the sports group.
*There are several less obvious ones that make me go hmmm when I peruse the list, simply because of personal knowledge I have of some emotional, at minimum, connections between the applicant and county commissioners. We’ll keep a close eye on those.
A smart man once said “Follow the money.” We haven’t even started to follow the money.
(Foley can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @ivanfoley)
See more on the county grant program in letters to the editor
A list of the first 160 applicants in the county business grant program can be found here