CM WALKER/Alachua County Today
L-R: Mayor Dianne Dubberly, Town Attorney John Maines, Councilwoman Barbara Thomas, Councilman Johnny Ho, Vice-Mayor Tom Ewing and Councilman Richard Dubberly seek opinion from State DEO Department of Ethics.
LACROSSE – The most time-consuming issue facing members of the the LaCrosse Town Council at the March 14 meeting was how to handle conflict of interest relating to a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Housing Rehabilitation.
In a town as small as LaCrosse, with a population of fewer than 400 people, it is not surprising that many residents are related to each other.
The conflict arose as Gloria Garcia was a member of the Citizen Advisory Task Force (CATF) which helped to determine whether the Town should seek the grant. Garcia attended one CATF meeting, but has removed herself from any involvement in the selection process by not attending the second meeting where the list of applicants was reviewed and recommended for inclusion.
Three of Garcia's relatives, sister Aimee Garcia, father Pedro Garcia and aunt Gabriela Bustamante were among the applications reviewed and ultimately found to qualify under CDBG's guidelines for inclusion in the program.
“The CDBG program requires that each applicant provide information on family relationships with Town elected officials, Town employees, Citizen Advisory Task Force or Board Members,” said Jay Moseley, Senior Consultant for Government Services Group, Inc. (GSG).
GSG is the firm that assisted the Town in obtaining the grant and is also administering the grant to make sure it is handled according to the CDBG grant requirements.
“It is not uncommon for a community of this size to have these conflicts arise during the process of providing Housing Rehabilitation programs,” said Moseley. However, in a case like this, “the Town Council is required to apply for a conflict of interest waiver for the applicants,” he said.
In addition to Garcia's three relatives, who applied before the deadline along with other applicants, one additional person applied after the initial deadline and, according to Moseley, is also financially qualified. That person is Gloria Garcia herself.
“As we are contracted with [the Department of Economic Opportunity] to provide assistance to a total of nine single family homes, the inclusion of [this home] will assist the town in reaching their goal – and we have one additional slot to fill,” Moseley said.
Following lengthy discussion, Council members voted 4-0 to apply for a conflict of interest waiver for the four qualified applicants.
Although that vote met CDBG requirements, one more hurdle remained concerning the State's consideration regarding ethics related to Gloria Garcia's application to be included in the grant.
Town Attorney John Maines said he spoke with C. Christopher Anderson, III, General Counsel/Deputy Executive Director, Florida Commission on Ethics. Regarding the inclusion of Gloria Garcia's application, he said Anderson told him he could either leave it as is or the Town Council could submit a waiver to review the situation.
Although the Council voted 4-0 to apply for an opinion from the Department on Ethics, the Department of Economic Opportunity, administrators of the Housing, Rehabilitation and Replacement Grant, moved on their own Tuesday to request a legal opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Although it may appear that the grant is stalled, Moseley will continue to do the work required prior to beginning construction on the properties not in question.
In addition to the $600,000 CDBG grant, the county's State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program also added $125,000 more as a match. According to Town Mayor Dianne Dubberly, the SHIP Program has helped many of the smaller communities, but this is the first time she is aware of that they are providing funds for the Town of LaCrosse.
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