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Schenectady to form advisory committee to review community ARPA funding applications

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall

The Schenectady City Council has passed legislation to create an advisory committee to review community proposals and provide recommendations related to the use of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Schenectady is slated to receive more than $52 million in ARPA funding. After getting the first half of the COVID relief aid in May, the city held a number of neighborhood meetings to gather input on how it should spend the money. In December, the city welcomed applications for a first round of grants to support initiatives as outlined in Schenectady’s five-year consolidated plan: housing opportunities, workforce development, and strengthening neighborhoods.

On Monday, council members passed a resolution to form an advisory committee to review community proposals and provide recommendations to the council. All council members are Democrats.

Councilor Carl Williams spoke in favor of the resolution.

“I’m glad that we are able to unanimously, hopefully, get together and support moving this forward and ensure that the parameters for individuals selected to be put on this panel adequately represent your best wishes, because this is the money that is for the people and it is our responsibility to ensure that each of these dollars goes to benefit all of the recommendations that we have received thus far,” said Williams.

Councilor John Polimeni was the lone vote against the measure. Polimeni said he had no objections to gathering public input on ARPA funding, but disagreed with the process that preceded Monday’s council vote, calling it a violation of public meetings law.

Polimeni said he believes group Schenectady United Neighborhoods – or SUN — was approached to prematurely form a committee to review ARPA proposals before appropriate approvals.

“The problem and where the violation came into play, is that there was as a discussion, and you don’t need to take my word for it, it was said at the last committee meeting that they met after one of the committee meetings. They discussed the issue. They said what committee it would be in. And there was – and this is where the violation comes into play – a move from one member to go to SUN asking for a committee to be formed,” said Polimeni.

The council member Polimeni is referring to is John Mootooveren, who was not at Monday’s council meeting. Polimeni then read from a letter from SUN to Mootooveren to back up his claims of inappropriate action.

“‘Councilmember Mootooveren, thank you for asking SUN to assist with review of the COVID relief fund proposals the city received,’” quoted Polimeni. “’As requested, we formed a review committee.’ It then attaches a memorandum with members of a committee. ‘SUN is proud to help with the city’s recovery effort.’ It goes on to say, ‘We have assembled this committee and are ready to work with the council to make recommendations on submitted projects.’”

Council President Marion Porterfield defended the city’s discussions with neighborhood groups, and characterized the correspondence from SUN to Councilor Mootooveren as the result of a misinterpretation.

“If you would look at the legislative request which was put forward, the legislative request clearly states to ask city council to ask SUN and other community groups to form a committee to review the applications. So there was no committee formed at that point in time. There was a…misunderstanding between whomever Mr. Mootooveren spoke with so there was no committee formed, and again, if you look at the legislative request you can clearly see that it was the request of the council to have this discussion so we could form this committee,” said Porterfield.

Porterfield continued, insisting that the discussion involving SUN was “not new to any of us.”

“In addition to that, taking steps and doing groundwork before you bring it to the city council committee is not uncommon either, and it makes sense to do some groundwork and to have some things done, as long as you aren’t making those final decisions, which did not happen. So, I will vote yes to move forward with this committee. It is something that people have asked for and something we need to do. We have ARPA funds to spend. We have…many community groups have put in applications and the work needs to be done.”

The resolution passed 5 to 1, with one member absent. The resolution does not provide a timetable, but the committee will be tasked with reviewing about 70 applications already submitted.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.