JAMESTOWN, NY (WNY News Now) — A Jamestown development group tasked with distributing a big chunk of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding may have violated their conflict of interest policy, after they approved funding to businesses connected to the corporation’s board members.
As first reported by WRFA on Wednesday, the Jamestown Local Development Corporation appears to have violated their own by-laws when they approved grants to a slew of local businesses which are owned by family members of those on the committee’s board.
In mid-February, a $64,000 grant was allocated to “It’s Your Day” wedding planning and a $15,000 grant to Jamestown Skate Products.
The wedding planner’s owner is the wife of JLDC board member and city councilman Jeffrey Russell while the skate product company is owned by JLDC Board Member Pete Scheira.
Furthermore, a $9,500 grant was awarded to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The church’s rector Luke Fodor is also on the board.
While the three reused themselves from a vote on the allocations, the JLDC bylaws strictly prohibit awarding funding to any body connected to, or that has relation to, a sitting board member.
The agency has authority to approve grants under $100,000, any price tags above that amount go to Jamestown’s City Council for a vote.
“We look at the whole picture and evaluate each application based on what the real costs are for the project, and what it is that they’re going to do with that,“ explained Surdyk. “What the potential benefits of the project are, the economic benefits. To go to community, to tax revenues, to sales tax, to job creation, all of those things are considerations in every single application.”
In a separate issue this week, the council hated three other allocations as they questioned a possible “favoritism” by the board.
“There’s multiple ARPA funding through JLDC, for instance the BEBA that we just did and the IT,” said Eckland. “And some businesses have applied and been accepted in all of those. And that is a concern. My concern is are we really reaching enough of the businesses, and if they’re telling me that’s what they’re doing, and they are showing me that’s what they’re doing, we have to take faith in that is what is truly happening, but I think the public needs to hear that too.”
The council plans on having a joint meeting with the JLDC sometime next month to review the projects that were held, and possibly, discuss the conflict of interests within the development corporation.