On Jan. 22, 2018, City Council unanimously adopted an order introduced by Councilor Leo Robinson requesting a Sub-Committee meeting. The meeting was to discuss a proposal by John Ruiz requesting a grant of $475,000 from the city to establish a youth center at the CCC (Old YMCA building). The three-year pilot proposal suggested project activities included boxing, basketball, volleyball, dance/aerobics, STEM-Focused Lewis Latimer Society Exhibitions, and drop-in programs as necessary.
The process of selecting non-profit recipients for grants is a function of the City Manager’s office. When a need in the community arises that the City is unable to meet, the City Manager’s office solicits proposals from non-profits and makes a final decision. Once a grantee is chosen, the City Manager requests funds from the City Council to cover the cost. This is otherwise known as the RFP process (Request for Proposal).
During the Sub-Committee meeting last week, I referenced the process of soliciting proposals, as the involvement of City Council so early was uncommon. If there was a pool of money available to grant for a potential teen center, then all non-profits should be allowed the opportunity to apply. Procedurally, the only time the Council has a say is when it is time to appropriate the funds for the chosen non-profit, after the City Manager has concluded his decision. With the understanding that the burden of decision-making rested with the City Manager, I saw no point as to why this was before us.
However, for the sake of open and honest debate around investments in our youth, I welcomed the dialogue.
Mr. John Ruiz gave an impassioned speech about wanting to give back to the community and councilors did their due diligence in asking questions to gain clarity around this proposed project. Balancing the needs of our youth and where to invest taxpayer dollars is a delicate situation. Yet, as representatives of the community, it is our duty to ask the proper questions to settle concerns.
My personal comments commended the former heavyweight-boxing champ in wanting to give back to the city. I made clear that all proposals were subject to a formal RFP process and encouraged Mr. Ruiz to have conversations with stakeholders (youth, youth organizations) to familiarize himself with the community again and better assess the popularity of boxing. I also suggested that if the champ wanted to give back to the community, he should consider investing in the Explorer Post 109 (which is currently housed in the CCC building). Ruiz’s contribution as a former member of the Post 109 could go a long way for the struggling, 62-year-old youth organization.
Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal.
That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager.
The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am one out of 11 votes. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz allegedly chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.
As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world. However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant. It is imperative that we continue to secure a fair and transparent process in the allocation of taxpayer dollars. As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.
Moving forward, I have made it clear to the City Manager that future efforts must remain in his office as it is outside of the scope of Council’s responsibilities. As representatives of our community, we are always available to provide input. However, before anything comes before the City Council a system of checks and balances must be well outlined (budget, zoning, permitting and/or compliancy).
As I look back at where we are, I am proud to see the amazing work we’ve accomplished in the past couple of years. Reestablishing the Youth Commission, reviving our Recreational Dept., increase in youth programming across the city, and creating mentorship for our youth is a testament of our commitment to our future leaders.
This is what’s right about Chelsea.
The mere fact that we are discussing the empowerment of our youth and their need for services speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come. There will be minor setbacks as we strive toward a government that is transparent and inclusive of all. The true test is in how we learn from these experiences and rise above it all. I have the utmost faith in this community and feel confident that we will stand stronger as a result of these conversations.