GREENBELT – Groups applying for grants from the city of Greenbelt will have a new process to adjust to following a unanimous vote by the city council. At its Oct. 10 meeting, the Greenbelt City Council voted 7-0 to revise its contribution and recognition group policy. Financial support will be designated into two categories, project […]
GREENBELT – Groups applying for grants from the city of Greenbelt will have a new process to adjust to following a unanimous vote by the city council.
At its Oct. 10 meeting, the Greenbelt City Council voted 7-0 to revise its contribution and recognition group policy. Financial support will be designated into two categories, project grants and operating grants, and recipients of either type of grant will have to provide a financial summary statement at the end of the fiscal year to account for how the grant money was used. But the biggest change included in the revision is the creation of a new Grant Review Panel to evaluate all the grant applications received from community groups, score them, and recommend to the council which should receive funds.
Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis said the new policy could take some getting used to, but the city will hold a public informational meeting in November to explain the new requirements. She said overall, the change will allow groups to potentially receive larger grants than they had before.
“I think it is going to increase accountability. It is going to make people more aware, perhaps, of what they need to do as far as service to the community, because they’re going to have to explain that better. And I think that that’s going to be a big help,” Davis said.
City Manager Michael McLaughlin said this proposal does not take authority away from the council. It would still be responsible for making the final decisions on grant awards, as well as determining, through the budget, how much grant money is available each year.
“The Grant Review Panel would be working with that amount of money and they would be making a recommendation on how to allocate those funds. And if it matches with the groups, so much the better. If it’s less than all the groups ask for, then that’s a decision that comes back to council as to whether to allocate more money,” McLaughlin said.
Although the measure passed unanimously, members of the council did have disagreements over the details of the plan. Mayor Emmett Jordan made a motion to amend the policy to add two new members to the five-member Grant Review Panel to provide more opportunities for city residents to participate in the process.
“I would like to see an opportunity for people from Greenbelt to actually serve. There are people in the community that have a vast amount of experience in evaluating grant proposals and also a great deal of knowledge about our programs and they may or may not be serving on one of the advisory boards already. So my thought was to perhaps expand the number of people on the panel,” he said.
However, many of his colleagues disagreed, and the motion failed 3-4. Councilmembers Silke Pope, Rodney Roberts and Leta Mach and Mayor Pro Tem Davis all voted nay. Davis said many of the advisory groups have vacancies that residents could fill if they wanted to be more involved with the city. Also, she noted the panel’s meetings would be public.
“The panel review meetings are also open to the public. So people who have experience could then offer their opinion,” she said.
Greenbelt’s Assistant Director of Recreation Programs Greg Varda also said adding two additional members would change the timetable in getting it up and running due to the need to advertise it, review applications and interview interested persons.
The other point of contention was a lack of a concrete scoring rubric for the panel to use in reviewing proposals. Councilman Edward Putens said this opened the city up to lawsuits or controversies over discrimination if applicants don’t know exactly what criteria the panel was using when scoring.
“When you’re assigning points, you have to have a rationale the higher up you go. There’s got to be some distinction. How are you going to decide between zero points and 30 points if you don’t have some kind of criteria?” he said. “The applicants are not going to know the difference between 15 points and 30 points.”
Varda said his department has looked into the issue and he did not believe the lack of a rubric would pose a problem.
“We did a little research into that. We talked to the city solicitor, we looked at some other municipalities. We think there’s not a legality issue with our scoring rubrics that we present to council, and the evaluation sheets that we have, we think fit best for what we’re doing,” he said.
Varda said the same five people would evaluate each application, providing the consistency Putens was after.
Davis argued that in her experience, evaluators often lean toward being generous toward applicants, which would result in overall more favorable evaluations for all applications.
“I’ve done scoring myself for rubrics, and there’s always this latitude, and I understand people can get a little bit edgy about it,” she said. “(But) I tend to find that people are more generous than not.”
In the end, Jordan said Putens’ concern was an operational one and not a policy concern and should not prevent the council from voting on the issue.
Putens agreed, but said he still felt the lack of a rubric would lead to trouble as the new grant review policy was implemented.
“I’m going to say it publicly: you wait one time and you see what happens. I’m going to sit back and say, ‘I told you so,’” he said.