JAMESTOWN, NY (WNY News Now) — It’s been over a month since officials in Jamestown launched an inquiry into a possible conflict of interest surrounding how American Rescue Plan Act funding was distributed to local businesses, and yet, it’s still unclear if violations were committed.
The Jamestown Local Development Corporation may have violated their own by-laws when they approved grants to three local businesses with direct connections to sitting board members. While the respective members recused themselves from the vote, questions remain if a conflict of interest occurred.
In mid-February, $64,000 dollars in American Rescue Plan funding was allocated to “It’s Your Day” wedding planning, which is owned by the wife of JLDC board member and city councilman Jeffrey Russell. In addition, $15,000 dollars was given to Jamestown Skate Products, owned by Board Member Pete Scheira. The board also allocated $9,500 dollars to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Luke Fodor is a JLDC board member.
“We are still waiting,“ explained Corporation Counsel, Elliot Raimondo. “I spoke to the congressional representative today (Wednesday April 19), the treasury department has, for a lack of a better term, bounced him from person to person to person. So we are still waiting, what is the status of the state and local fiscal recovery on guidance. Specifically what they mean by violations of ethical rules.”
Part of the problem is that the sub-department of the U.S. Treasury, tasked with issuing ARPA guidance, is no longer in operation.
Nevertheless, the development group is continuing to accept new applicants seeking funding. The latest round approved $50,000 dollars to Ball Game Heroes and Pearl City Cycle.
“It feels good to see some new businesses come forward,“ stated Councilwoman and Board Member Kim Eckland. “I would still love to see some existing businesses apply for some of that funding through ARPA that did not, and have not. Like I mentioned in there, sometimes businesses are putting out their AOP plans so far in advance that they might not have a match, whatever the reasons may be. But, I’m still reaching to see if we can help some of the local businesses.”
Both of these businesses started up during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why board members felt issuing grant awards is important.
“A lot of people can be self-employed, and they can make a great effort at it,“ explained Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist. “And so we’re just excited to see them apply for grant funding, and we’re excited to just connect to all the new businesses we’ve seen since the pandemic. Jamestown has been a city of entrepreneurship, and we have watched our small businesses just flourish during the pandemic and after, and we can’t wait to continue supporting them.”
The investigation into the JLDC’s potential violation of their by-laws is still ongoing. At this point it is unclear what must be done, if anything, to correct the conflict of interest or if the businesses which received funding will have to return the grants issued.