Last week an E-City Beat reader made the following comment on one of our Facebook posts, referring to current Great Falls city commissison candidate Susan Wolff:
“And don’t forget Commission candidate Wolff’s part in the HUD scandal that exposed Commission fingers in the Block Grant pot.“
The comment apparently points back to a piece on E-City Beat called ‘The Who, What, And How Of The Great Falls Good Old Boys And Gals Club’ from May 2018 outlining the “…distribution of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) taxpayer funds by the Great Falls Community Development Council (CDC) and the Great Falls City Commission.”
The article cites a letter written from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the City of Great Falls about the plain conflicts of interest surrounding the local CDBG funding process.
Here is a portion of the HUD letter.
“The City’s letter dated December 20, 2017 identified 14 individuals who participated in the Commission or Council between 2012 and 2017, and who would also be identified as persons covered by Section 570.611(c). In total, $522,252.00 was awarded by the Commission and Council between 2012 and 2017 to entities from which the 14 members noted above, or those with whom they have business or immediate family ties, obtained a financial interest or benefit.”
Susan Wolff is named as one of those ’14 individuals’ because as a member of the Great Falls Community Development Council she was approving taxpayer funds for an organization on which she was a sitting board member.
“Susan Wolff – CDC Member – Board Member GFDA which received $40,000 (2017)”.
By the way, current Mayor Bob Kelly and City Commissioner Tracy Houck were also named by HUD as two of the individuals among the 14 with conflicts of interest.
That was then, this is now – and it’s important to understand how ‘then’ applies to ‘now’.
At the 10/5/21 City Commission work session the topic of how to distribute the over $19 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds received by the City of Great Falls was discussed in depth.
One of the options discussed was the possibility of granting large chunks of the ARPA funds to local non-profits like United Way of Cascade County and allowing them to administer the funds to sub-recipients.
In fact, according to the minutes from the meeting, United Way President Gary Owen participated in the commission Zoom meeting and “…spoke in support of United Way being designated as a potential recipient of the City’s ARPA funding.”
Here’s the connection to candidate Wolff: On review of all of the candidates’ campaign fundraising records it comes up that Kim Skornogoski/Ochsner is not only Wolff’s official campaign treasurer but also donated $152.62 to the Wolff campaign.
Kim Skornogoski is the Marketing Director for United Way of Cascade County and her boss is the above mentioned Gary Owen
While the ‘campaign treasurer’ designation is listed as Kim Skornogoski and the donation is reported to be from Kim Ochsner, they are the same person.
In addition, another donor to the Wolff campaign is the Volunteer Coordinator for United Way of Cascade County, Lynette Scriver-Colburn.
Here’s a handy tool to look up local candidate campaign info including who gives how much to each candidate.
Given that the final decisions as to how Great Falls’ ARPA funds will be distributed won’t occur until after a new city commission is seated in January 2022, it’s necessary to closely scrutinize the candidates who are seeking to fill the two open seats on the commission concerning their campaign finance connections to local non-profits lobbying for possibly millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
We don’t need any more CDBG fiascos or conflicts of interest on our city commission.
We’ll be watching. Very closely.