Months after the Crescent City Council revoked Community Development Block Grant dollars to Rural Human Services, representatives of the nonprofit say it still hasn’t received money it is owed from its 2014 contract.
However, Interim Crescent City Manager Michael Young says the city is withholding those funds until RHS provides evidence the organization had obtained three quotes for a purchase it wants to use those dollars for. The city is also concerned another purchase with CDBG dollars constitutes a potential conflict of interest, Young said.
The city has also denied a third request from RHS for $216.71 to help pay for food for volunteers, Young said.
“That is clearly not an eligible item and it won’t be paid, period,” he said.
According to Young, RHS is requesting $42,721 in 2014 CDBG dollars. It is money the city would have granted to RHS before its subrecipient contract with the organization expired on Aug. 31, 2017, he said.
RHS board member Karen Sanders, who has been tasked by the interim board president, Crescent City Police Chief Ivan Minsal, to work with the city regarding the organization’s CDBG grant, said the nonprofit is currently working through the city’s questions.
“We’re providing the information they’ve requested,” she said Friday. “They did have some questions and we responded and we provided the information they requested and that’s about all I know.”
Minsal said he also asked his colleague on the RHS board, Eli Naffah, to work with Sanders when speaking with the city regarding the CDBG grant. Minsal said he’s not involved in those discussions since he is a city employee and it would be a direct conflict of interest.
In July 17, Young decided to terminate the contract providing about $150,000 in 2014 CDBG dollars each to the RHS food bank and Harrington House, the nonprofit’s domestic violence shelter, citing “multiple violations of the subrecipient agreements.”
There were also concerns about sexual harassment allegations against RHS’s former executive director, Scott Feller.
Feller was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the nonprofit. In May, RHS agreed to pay $152,500 to settle the lawsuit.
According to a Nov. 7 monitoring letter from the city to RHS, the nonprofit asked for $4,900 to purchase 700 8-ounce bottles of honey and $3,500 to purchase 46 cases of eggs from Alexandre Kids LLC. The request concerning the honey may be in violation of RHS’s financial procedures manual regarding “reasonable cost,” according to the city’s letter. The city asked RHS to provide competitive price quotes as well as documentation supporting the decision to make the purchase.
In its letter, the city also stated the purchase of eggs from Alexandre Kids may constitute a conflict of interest since the owner, Vanessa Alexandre, is a member of the RHS board. The city also requested an annual performance report for the period of July 1 through Aug. 31, 2017.
In response to the city’s monitoring letter, RHS Food and Family Director Ron Phillips said he had never been asked by a funder, the organization’s executive director or board to fill out a procurement form for food. He said he looks for the best nutritional value and pricing available.
“Regarding the honey purchase of $7 per 8 ounce bottle, this was very reasonable for locally produced honey,” Phillips said in a Nov. 30 letter to the city. “Local honey contains a blend of local pollens, which can strengthen a person’s immune system and reduce pollen allergy systems. Also, 64 cents of every dollar stays in the community when you buy local. Even the city has an incentive program for buying local.”
Regarding the purchase of Alexandre Kids eggs, Phillips said he has been buying from the Alexandres long before Vanessa Alexandre became an RHS board member, adding he had worked with Christian Alexandre when negotiating a price for eggs.
“Again, after checking with several markets for fresh eggs in the amount we would need for full food distribution, Alexandre Kids was the best deal,” Phillips told the city. “Their eggs would be no more than a few days old whereas buying from a local market like Walmart or Safeway, they could be up to six months old.”
In his letter, Phillips said the honey and eggs have already been purchased and RHS should be reimbursed.
“It would be unfair to not give us any money for products that we have purchased and distributed,” Phillips said. “If you wanted us to follow a different process than what we have done over the years, then you should have told us in advance.”
As for the $216.71 for food for volunteers, Phillips told the city RHS paid for that with other funds.
In an interview Wednesday with the Triplicate, Phillips said since he began running the RHS food bank eight years ago, he always received free rein when it came to purchasing food. He said the board had never requested a list of the items he has purchase.
“They’re questioning everything,” Phillips said referring to the city. “They’ve never questioned anything before. Now all of a sudden, since we’ve had this hoorah, it’s why did you spend this, why did you spend (that)...”
Phillips said the CDBG grant allowed him to augment USDA commodity items he receives via the state of California with fresh eggs and produce like spaghetti squash. He said he uses another grant that pays for food items grown in California in much the same way.
“I try to bring things into their diet that enhances it, or maybe they get the idea that they can use their (electronic bank transfer card) and go to the farmers market,” Phillips said, referring to food bank recipients.
The Crescent City Farmers Market accepts EBT cards and runs a Market Match program that allows low income families access to fresh produce.
Not having CDBG funding will result in cutbacks, Phillips said, but the food bank will still be in existence. He said some of his pay has suffered because it was funded through CDBG dollars.
“There’s not enough money to pay me to be on full time so I’ll either work part time or not work at all,” Phillips said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .