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Council questions need for new grant writer

Date: 4/12/2011

April 13, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — The City Council questioned a recent hire by Mayor Daniel Knapik at its April 7 meeting.

A motion presented by City Councilor At-Large John Beltrandi requested that the mayor attend the May 5 City Council meeting to present the job description, funding source and qualifications of the recently-hired in-house grant writer charged with soliciting funds from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The motion asked the mayor to be prepared to discuss whether or not this role would overlap with the grant writing duties of a HUD consultant currently working with the city and those of City Advancement Officer Jeffrey Daley.

"It is within the mayor's authority to hire personnel without any input from the City Council," Beltrandi said. "We just want to insure these duties do not overlap."

City Council President Christopher Keefe said under Section 18 of the city's Charter, the council has the right to request the information, but the mayor could choose to send a department head to represent him.

City Councilor At-Large David Flaherty said the council first learned of this new hire through a city newsletter.

"This needs to be explained," Flaherty said. "We might have a tough budget, we might be cutting police or fire or teachers. It sets a bad example to hire an employee when we still have the consultant [on the city payroll]."

He added that a previous in-house HUD grant writing position had been mismanaged, costing the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to clean up.

City Councilor At-Large Brent Bean said he had learned from talking with Knapik that the new position was created at the request of HUD. He asked if requesting the mayor attend meeting to explain this hire made it appear the council was "micro-managing his office."

Ward 3 City Councilor Peter Miller suggested the council might request a written explanation from Knapik regarding why this hire might be sufficient. He said the council should still adhere to the May 5 deadline for the mayor's response.

Daley later explained to Reminder Publications that there was no overlap between his position and that of the new grant writer, who is handling funding that comes to the city through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Daley said his role is to seek out sources of funding for economic development and training for the city and write grants in those areas when necessary.

He added that the city's association with the HUD consultant was slated to end as of July 1 and that, at the suggestion of the national and state directors of HUD, the mayor had chosen to bring that position in-house.

This new position, Daley continued, will not only help the city access to CDBG grants, but also to develop long-term programs for housing, economic development and blight reduction which can be funded using CDBG monies.

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