After a discussion of a Bright from the Start grant, the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted 4-1 to shift organization of management for the Nelson Heights Community Center from county staff back to a 501c3 nonprofit run by the center.
The grant, referred to as a federal “pass-through” because the state receives money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is then distributed through the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning “Bright from the Start” program, was applied for in June under the BOC’s IRS Employee Identification Number. That grant, which changes in amount each month depending on the number of children served, was approved by the state program.
However, in order to get the grant money released, the BOC needed to vote to accept the it. County staff warned the board that action on the grant could jeopardize the county’s other $11.5 million in federal grants if it was administered improperly.
That spurned the discussion on what to do, not only with the organization of the Nelson Height Community Center, but all the county-run community services, such as Senior Services.
When first hearing about the refusal of the Bright from the Start grant, Commissioner J.C. Henderson was visibly upset by the staff’s recommendation and accused it of letting children go hungry. He then demanded to know if the county refused grants made to Senior Services, or other county services, and was told that the county’s other grants were in compliance with organization structure.
Finance Director Michelle Kelly responded by explaining that Senior Services was a county department and its staff was responsible for administering the grants received. Administration of grants received by other services, such as the Washington Street Community Center, was handled by their 501c3 foundations.
The Nelson Heights Community Center’s 501c3, though, has no management authority over the center, according to Jenny Carter, attorney with W.T. Craig Law Offices.
That nonprofit foundation was the first to apply for the Bright from the Start grant, which would provide funds to give afterschool snacks and meals to children at the community center. However, due to the lack of management authority, the grant was rejected, and Henderson, who chairs the center’s board of directors, asked if the grant could be requested under the BOC’s EIN.
Once it was submitted under the BOC’s EIN, the county’s finance department was then made responsible for maintaining copies of the records and documentation required by the state and federal government. Actual administration of the grant, however, would be done by the Nelson Heights Community Center staff.
When asked by District 1 Commissioner John Douglas what the staff’s concern about accepting the grant for Nelson Heights, Kelly responded, “The level of paperwork for federal pass through grants puts a lot of work on county staff,” she said.
Kelly said the center would be required to open a separate checking account for the grant money.
Commissioner Lanier Sims, District 2, asked why Nelson Heights Community Center was set up differently from other centers, such as Washington Street Community Center. “I think all [recipients of county] appropriations should stand on their own. We’re not in the business of social programming.
“Let’s get all community centers on the same footing,” he said. “No more extra pressure on the staff.”
He then made a motion to have the legal department make the setup of the operation and administration of county recipients of appropriations identical.
“We need to keep our focus on Nelson Heights, instead of worrying about getting everyone on the same page right now,” said Douglas.
Commissioner Levie Maddox, District 5, moved to have Carter draft a resolution shifting the Bright Start grant from the county to the Nelson Heights Community Center’s 501c3 nonprofit organization, which Carter believed was still valid.
Sims withdrew his motion, but asked the BOC to agree to have appropriation recipients “on the same page by the end of the year.”
According to Chair Keith Ellis, the Nelson Heights Community Center, which opened in 2005, has a 501c3 foundation, but it wasn’t tremendously active. He said the board had been asked by the previous county manager to apply for the grant under the BOC EIN.
If the resolution had been approved by the board Monday night, “there would be reimbursement money from the federal government [to pay for food]. If you feed kids all day long, you wind up with about $30,000 worth of food. Nelson Heights Community Center doesn’t have that money.”
If the center’s nonprofit foundation reapplies for the grant, “that’s potentially eight weeks of feeding children that’s not paid for,” said Ellis. “There’s no guarantee that [Horace] White would be willing to sponsor the grant. He was pretty angry.”
White, of RCIP, Inc./Safe Care, a Stone-Mountain based company that sponsors grant recipients, appeared before the BOC at Henderson’s request to answer questions about the grant. As a sponsor of the Bright from the State program, RCIP trains staff in the government’s health, safety and finance requirements.
When asked, White said children who stayed at schools for after school program could get a meal. Once a child leaves school, he said, it might not be until they return to school before they get a nutritious meal.
When asked what would happen if the BOC didn’t accept the grant and how long it would take before the center could apply for and receive a new grant as a 501c3 foundation, White estimated it would take between 30 to 60 days at the minimum.
“I have been out to Commissioner Henderson’s district seven times [to answer questions and give explanations],” he said. “I will not come back. If Newton County doesn’t want [this grant], I can guarantee you, other counties do.”
White left immediately following his statement.