Under the cloud of war in Iraq and a faltering economy at home, the New Haven Board of Aldermen went about its business last Wednesday evening, passing a community funding package and a resolution calling for extra security at places of worship in light of the perceived terrorist threat.
Headlining the proceedings was the final vote on the distribution plan for the Community Development Block Grant, a crucial chunk of money from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development apportioned to municipalities each year based on census information. A slew of neighborhood associations, workforce development operations, and city agencies then vie for the precious funding.
This year, New Haven received roughly $5.2 million, almost a six percent decrease from the previous fiscal year, making the process of doling out the limited government money even more contentious — and disappointing, for some — than in years past.
“The reality is the feds keep cutting the amount, the state keeps cutting its budget, so the city is always scrambling,” said Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison LAW ’68. “So of course we weren’t fair. But I think the people involved with it did their best.”
Aldermen Raul Avila, Kevin Diaz, and Brian Jenkins were of a different mind, however, and they voiced their displeasure in the form of a pair of amendments suggesting some major reworking of the city’s plan.
The three men put forward proposals for the board to grant significant funding to property improvement organizations in their wards: the Fair Haven Development Corporation, the West Rock Development Corporation, Fellowship, Inc. and Flechas. The city’s Office of Management and Budget, which drafted the original allocation scheme, had not allotted a penny to any of the four groups.
The amendments were summarily shot down by the rest of the aldermen present, as they saw the trio’s pleas as catering to constituent concerns over the common good.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said he thought the members of the board who worked on the plan performed commendably and that the three dissenting voices were grandstanding for failing operations.
“I think, in general, the administration and the board did a good job. You can always quibble, but overall, the package is one that will do well for the city,” said Healey, reserving harsh words for the losing community organizations and their proponents. “I think [Avila, Diaz, and Jenkins] just wanted to demonstrate to their various constituencies they claim to represent that they were fighting for these non-productive organizations.”
Mattison added, “I can’t imagine what they hoped to accomplish other than make the rest of us angry.”
The Fair Haven Development Corporation was notably absent from the list of grant recipients in this year’s plan. After receiving $95,000 of CDBG money last year and requesting $250,000 for fiscal year 2003-2004, the organization came under heat recently from the city government for alleged mismanagement of funds, the likely reason for their omission from this year’s list.
Avila, Diaz, and Jenkins did not return phone calls over the weekend.
After the amendments asking for up to $68,000 for each of the four groups flopped, Avila then submitted a final amendment calling for the city clerk to attach a list of those involved in the original decision-making process to the approved plan. This unusual request was also defeated.
“It’s really a non-sensical amendment that I don’t quite understand what, in practice, it would mean,” said Healey.
The only amendment approved to the original plan was proffered by Ward 14 Alderwoman Robin Kroogman and basically announced a further decrease in HUD funding for the CDBG.
The other resolution passed at the meeting, proposed by Jenkins, asked the city to “heighten its security and police patrol of churches, synagogues, and mosques — given the [then] impending war on Iraq.”
Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahearn and others objected to the resolution because they thought the police forces were more needed elsewhere and that the board had less expertise on the matter than did law enforcement officials.
“I don’t see the logic that religious institutions are any more likely to be attacked than say, a nuclear power plant or neighborhoods,” said Ward 9 Alderman John Halle, a Yale music professor. “I don’t think it’s the place of the aldermen to say that any threat is more likely to materialize than any others.”