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Running Interference

Albany County Legislature appears to be protecting its own by not moving forward in contract negotiations

by Ali Hibbs on February 18, 2010

Since 2008, the Albany County Legislature has repeatedly delayed approval of contracts put forward by the Department for Children, Youth and Families, leading to operational difficulties for some of the providers that the agency depends on. At the same time, A provider that continues to benefit significantly from this delay, Project Strive, has political ties to the very legislature that is keeping its funding lines open.

According to Colette Poulin, commissioner of the DCYF, successful providers such as St. Catherine’s Center for Children and Parsons Child and Family Center are finding it hard to meet staffing and costs due to outdated funding amounts. These providers, Poulin pointed out, are servicing the same number of families as they were in 2005 and at the same per diem rate. “And that is the concern of the providers because many of them are struggling to maintain their staff.”

Conversely, agencies that have been deemed less effective on multiple occasions are still continuing to receive the same amount of county dollars. Documents Metroland received from the Albany County Legislature clearly outline ongoing concerns about providers LaSalle School and Project Strive and provide recommendations to fund new providers who have been deemed more appropriate since early 2008.

According to legislative documents, Project Strive receives all of its funding from the county. David Bosworth, executive director of Project Strive, is a Guilderland Democrat who was, along with Majority Leader Frank Commisso, a co-chairman of the Albany County Democratic Party in 2007 and 2008.

Project Strive has been receiving more than $1 million a year from county coffers for more than a decade.

Initial concerns about a conflict of interest with Project Strive were raised during the 2007 Guilderland elections. Republican Mark Grimm, who ran against Bosworth for the town board, cited 2005 IRS forms stating that Bosworth and his wife took home “nearly $190,000 in pay and benefits from this nonprofit that is funded nearly entirely by Albany County taxpayers.” Grimm also stated during a recent phone interview with Metroland that government documents from 2005 also revealed that Project Strive does no external fundraising, that 98 percent of its revenues come from the county, and that Bosworth and his wife are the nonprofit’s highest-paid officers.

There has also been significant overlap between those who have served on the board of Project Strive and county Democrats, specifically those sitting on the Albany County Legislature.

Grimm said that he has heard many complaints from Strive employees and ex-employees about the way that Bosworth runs the organization, including his own time commitments.

“A lot of times he’s not there during the day,” Grimm claimed, “and yet he’s collecting a salary.”

Legislative documents from 2009 seem to underscore these concerns, stating that “DCYF staff have met numerous times with Project Strive to discuss on-going concerns with low utilization rates, understaffing, and frequent days closed. Strive continually refuses to share information with DCYF staff or answer any questions about programming.” The same document stated further that Strive “has also not fulfilled the requirements of the RFP by obtaining an OCFS facilities certificates,” and recommends cutting the program by more than $1 million. This would leave the nonprofit with $300,000 annually.

According to DCYF, the newer contracts are more appropriate because they put forth a more comprehensive set of needs and provide a more flexible method of dealing with each provider. They also would allow for greater oversight and demand more specific compliances and results. This is the result of the new RFP process, introduced in 2008 by Poulin, in which potential providers are scrutinized for the services they provide and scored according to a series of predetermined standards. They may receive a contract for all or only some of their services, and a set amount of cases that they are funded to handle in a given period. They may also be denied funding altogether, based on how they score on a scale of 0 to 5 across a series of evaluation criteria.

Legislature Chairman Dan McCoy has cited concerns about the effect of the new RFP process on current providers as a reason for the recurring delays. The same concern has also been mentioned in the multiple resolutions to table the contracts. While Poulin has gone before the legislature on several occasions to explain and clarify the new process, the contracts continue to be tabled.

In a phone conversation, Bosworth told Metroland, “I know there’s some discussion of new contracts that’s been delayed, but people are still doing business. . . . We’ve submitted proposals for new funding, and we hope we’ll be successful.”