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Running Interference

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

 

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Center for Children and Parsons Child and Family Center are finding it hard to meet staffing and costs due to outdated funding amounts.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.”

—Ali Hibbs


You Wanted New Members . . .

A Save the Y phone-a-thon has brought encouraging results for the embattled Washington Avenue branch, but some say YMCA officials still aren’t behind the effort

A press conference was held at Albany’s Washington Avenue YMCA Tuesday to express community support for the facility. In December, J. David Brown, the president and CEO of Capital District YMCA, had announced that the branch was to be shuttered and that the only way to keep it open would be to increase its membership from 1,800 to 2,500 by April.

Brown was joined by the Save the Y Task Force, which consists of members of surrounding neighborhood associations, as well as city officials and YMCA patrons.

The task force was formed immediately after the announcement that the Y was in danger of closing. The task force has been holding a phone-a-thon for weeks, calling new and existing members of the Y encouraging them to join or renew their membership. The phone-a-thon yielded more than 400 new members, an effort that seemed to bring the branch’s total membership up to roughly 2,200, just 300 shy of what was initially set as the goal to reach in April.

“I call people all day,” said Julie Maynes, president of the Park South Neighborhood Association. “People are pretty willing to bring their friends, which is great.”

And while there is reason for optimism behind these gains in membership, Brown cautioned against it. According to a conversation overheard between Brown and Mike Conners, the Albany County comptroller, while there might be a gain of 400 new members, that doesn’t take into account any recent membership terminations.

When asked by Metroland for clarification, Brown did not respond.

According to Conners, who has been invited by Brown to examine the membership numbers for the Y branch, the YMCA doesn’t appear very invested in the effort to keep the facility open. “There’s no real big desire that I can see for the Y, institutionally, to stay open,” Conners told Metroland. “This group of people has gotten 400 people to join in six weeks. If the institution itself put that kind of effort into it, you could get the members you need.”

“The real reason, in my opinion, that the Y is in trouble,” said Conners, “is that somebody, somewhere down the line found out that the real estate is worth more than the operation. And if we don’t fight for this place, they’re going to close it, because the Y is being suburbanized.”

Conners has a meeting scheduled for today with the YMCA to go over the membership numbers.

Alison Coleman, president of the Washington Square Neighborhood Association, stressed the importance of the facility’s location: providing diversity among its members echoing that of the city itself.

The convenience of Washington Avenue, according to Coleman, also allows many members to walk to the Y. If it closes its doors, this would no longer be an option for many members, as the next nearest branch is located in North Albany, over a mile away and separated by I-90.

“I grew up in YMCAs,” said Leif Engstrom, the chief auditor for the city of Albany, “and it became a major part of who I am today.”

—Elizabeth Knapp




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