I happened to be reading a Facebook comment thread the other day in which quite a few Great Fallsians were weighing in on what they’d like to see in our town. One of the comments, from Great Falls city commissioner Tracy Houck, provides an example of how public officials and politicians skew and massage facts to make themselves look better or avoid accountability.
Houck starts her comments with “Just a few clarifications here…”, but what follows aren’t really clarifications at all, but rather lies of omission and spin.
There are public officials at all levels, including here in Great Falls, who assume that the public is under-informed as to the details of public policy and official activities. This assumption, which many times is correct, can lead to folks like Houck taking advantage and trying to slip little deceits and sneaky lies into the public dialogue.
And that is the case here with Houcks attempts to muddy the water as to what actually occurred with the recent local Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding debacle.
So let’s unpack Houck’s comments line by line and attempt to uncover the tracks she tried to cover up. In response to a thread comment which suggested that the City of Great Falls lost $200,000 in grant funding, Houck writes the following:
“Another clarif, no one, including the city, lost a $200,000 grant this year.”
The fact is that in a February 5, 2018 (this year) letter from HUD it was confirmed that $199,153 in 2017 CDBG local funding was suspended by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That money had been approved for NeighborWorks Great Falls, Great Falls Development Authority, Habitat for Humanity, Opportunities Inc., and Rural Dynamics. The removal of funding for those local nonprofit organizations was due to conflicts of interest, including by Houck, in the CDBG fund distribution process.
Contrary to Houck’s misleading statement, those local Great Falls organizations lost their funding. In addition Paris Gibson Square (Houck’s employer) had their funding, $27,927 denied retroactively by HUD due to Houck’s own conflict of interests.
So while $200,000 was not technically “lost” to the City of Great Falls, Houck knows full-well that several local organizations lost almost exactly $200,000 in funding and we taxpayers may still be required to pay back $522,252 in already spent CDBG funding if all the corrective requirements aren’t met to the satisfaction of HUD, as outlined in the letter linked above. All because of Houck’s, and others, intentional conflicts of interest since 2012.
Here’s another line from Houck in which she attempts to further obscure the truth and deceive the public in order to evade responsibility:
“When I saw the final scores of the CDBG allocations, I questioned the process.”
Questioned the process? Actually what Houck did was to try to use her position and influence as a city commissioner with access to inside information in order to reverse the decision made by the Community Development Council to not fund PGS, her employer, an action for which she was reprimanded and warned in a hand-delivered letter from the City Attorney.
Once again, the HUD letter makes it very clear that Houck’s actions in this instance are a conflict of interest and a violation of HUD rules and standards, as she is listed as one of 14 individuals who had access to inside information etc.
“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.”
I wish public officials like Houck would just be honest and stop with all of the obfuscating and intentional deception. We’re not children or fools who are incapable of understanding facts or what’s going on in our local government.
Citizens now have the tools and resources to inform themselves and we are becoming more and more aware. The phony, pretty little lies will no longer work.
Stay tuned for Part Two.