I am very optimistic about the future of Great Falls, in part because so many citizens are starting to pay more attention to local public affairs and officials.
Recently someone sent me the minutes from a May 25, 2010 Great Falls Public Schools Facilities Task Force Focus Group meeting at which then and current Great Falls City Commissioner Bill Bronson was a guest. I found Bronson’s comments at that meeting 8 years ago to be very interesting in light of the recent fiasco surrounding the City Commission’s disbursement of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) taxpayer funds.
I also found those comments to be further confirmation of what I and others have been saying concerning the blatant conflicts of interest within our City Commission – and that is that Bronson (and others) knew that what they were doing was wrong. Their self-serving conflicts of interest were entered into intentionally and possibly with full knowledge that the City’s CDBG allocation process did not comport with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) standards, ethics and rules.
Here is the portion of the minutes reflecting Bronson’s comments to the Facilities Task Force:
“Also keep in mind that within the city, there is a little grumbling how we are allocating the City’s CDBG Community Development Block Grant money. He expects changes will be made over next few years. They might want to look at a few big projects and fund them now and get them done; have the other projects wait until the bigger ones are accomplished.”
In other words, “get as much money as you can now before they change ‘how we are allocating’ the CDBG funds, because there’s some grumbling going on.”
In hindsight we now know that the Community Development Council, members of which were appointed by Bronson and others on the City Commission, was comprised of folks who were applying for funds at the same time they were voting to decide who got the funds. Nice little racket, huh?
“In hindsight we now know that the Community Development Council, members of which were appointed by Bronson and others on the City Commission, was comprised of folks who were applying for funds at the same time they were voting to decide who got the funds. Nice little racket, huh?”
The February 20, 2018 letter from HUD to the City of Great Falls stated, in part, the following:
“With regard to the City of Great Falls, we consider any member of the City’s Commission or Community Development Council to be in a decision-making position and able to gain “inside information” on the CDBG funding process. 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.” (emphasis added)
Of the 14 individuals referenced in the HUD letter as being “in a decision-making position and able to gain ‘inside information’ on the CDBG funding process” since 2012 only Bronson is named by the City for each year – 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 – as being in conflict and violation because as a City Commissioner Bronson voted to approve hundreds of thousands of CDBG dollars to NeighborWorks Great Falls while his spouse was employed there.
From the HUD letter: “Carol Bronson’s relationship to Bill Bronson and her position with NeighborWorks Great Falls creates a conflict of interest, because of the exposure to ‘inside information’ and potential for financial benefit for herself and the organization.”
But now it appears that Bronson knew something wasn’t exactly kosher about the process back in 2010 and even encouraged the Facilities Task Force to get it while the gettin’s good.
If you read the minutes carefully you’ll also see that “Carlie and Bill also stated that their committee Weed and Seed may have an account…” etc. What’s not mentioned in the minutes is that Bronson’s wife was the paid Director of the Weed and Seed program at the time.
The ‘grumbling’ Bronson referred to back in 2010 has now turned into a loud roar and HUD has severely chastised the City of Great Falls for allowing the dishonest distribution process to go on for so long. In addition HUD has revoked and rescinded tens of thousands of dollars and identified over $500,000 in CDBG funds improperly allocated in Great Falls. We taxpayers may have to pay some or all of that back.
Why are we in this position? Because public officials like Bronson betrayed our trust and continued wallowing in their self-serving conflicts of interest even when they knew it wasn’t right. Let’s make sure those days are over.