Resident also asks for better transparency
nother round–this one totaling 65-70 recipients-of CARES grant awards to businesses and organizations received approval from the Platte County Commission last week.
(See the list of approvals that were made last week in a separate story in this week’s edition of The Landmark.)
Among the recipients again was the Southern Platte County Athletic Association, in the amount of $14,000. This grant is in addition to many other grants the SPCAA has received through action of the county commission recently. The wife of Ron Schieber, presiding county commissioner, is the paid director of the SPCAA.
In roll call votes for the multiple grants received by the SPCAA in recent years with Schieber in office–which is approximately 10 or more–Schieber has voted yes on some and has abstained on some. For the vote on the CARES grant last week, Schieber abstained.
The latest round of awards came after county auditor Kevin Robinson said the grant program is winding down, as the total amount of the federal CARES dollars distributed to Platte County–$12.2 million–has been earmarked and in many cases already distributed.
“With that, we will be–depending on a few variables–the money will be completely disbursed,” Robinson said at last week’s meeting.
Shortly after Dagmar Wood, first district commissioner, claimed that she had not received any criticism of the county’s CARES grant program, a resident stood to speak opposition. Despite Wood’s claim, the program has been critiqued in a variety of print publications and radio outlets, receiving statewide media attention at various points over the past several months when it was often pointed out Platte was one of the few counties to withhold CARES funds from the local public health department while giving grants as high as $225,000 to private businesses.
Sharen Hunt, who was the director of the University of Missouri Extension in Platte County for many years prior to retiring, spoke to the commission about the program. Hunt, who is now on the board of directors for the Platte Land Trust, said she has concerns about the program and mentioned the award to SPCAA and Schieber’s connection to the organization.
“I’ve worked with youth for 35-plus years and I’m a very strong advocate for youth, but I think this one organization is limited geographically,” Hunt remarked, further questioning the total amount awarded to the SPCAA over the course of the CARES grant program.
Referring to the Schieber family’s financial connection to SPCAA, Hunt added: “I think this also reflects on the conflict of interest (ordinance that was later on the county commission’s agenda that day). This group–they knew how to get the money, I guess.”
Hunt went on to question the commissioners about transparency issues.
“Some of us don’t know, still, if the health department got the help it needed because hundreds and hundreds of people depend on that agency not just for COVID but for all sorts of things,” Hunt remarked. She pointed out that some businesses received thousands–in some cases hundreds of thousands–in grant approvals but services such as pantries were not funded.
Commissioners said grants were reviewed and recommendations for approval were made via a county commission-appointed committee under the assistance of the Platte County Economic Development Council and a couple of agencies who were contracted to assist with handling of grant application paperwork. Meetings of that group were open to the public, Schieber said. She responded that people weren’t aware of that information or how to find it.
Schieber responded: “I think it is a lack of knowledge of how to access the information and not that it’s not available.”
Hunt suggested the county commission could hold Zoom video calls with interested members of the public on items of concern in the future, saying that would be a good way to improve transparency.