The county answers my previously denied open records request, kinda, they gave me the information, but my request is still denied.
United Way (and Downtown Madison Inc. a.k.a. DMI?) is refusing to work with Tenant Resource Center as the fiscal agent for Shine608 who will be working on the day center. Yet another reason, to add to the many (mostly anti-gay decisions), not to give money to the United Way. Here’s how it all unfolded to get me the answer.
County Open Records Request Response
Request still officially denied, but I got the info I needed – It’s DMI and United Way, and United Way put it in writing. My request is still considered “unreasonable”. Here is the letter.
December 18, 2013
via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
RE: December 15, 2013 Open Records Requests
Dear Ms. Konkel:
I am in receipt of the open records request you sent by email at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2013 to Joe Parisi, Lynn Green, Jeff Kostelic and Tim Saterfield and select County Board Supervisors, as well as the open records request you sent about a half an hour later to all County Board Supervisors. Although I am not the Records Custodian for the records you have requested, I have been asked to respond to your requests for Mr. Parisi, Ms. Green, Mr. Kostelic and Mr. Saterfield.
I understand your December 15 emails to mean that you are requesting copies of emails, correspondence or other written documents “regarding the donation of $50K for the operating costs and $75K in renovations for the day resource center during the time period of August 2012 through the present date,” or, in the alternative, (1) disclosure of the source of funds referenced in the Health and Human Needs Committee’s Budget Amendments 9 and 15; and (2) “what the issue with the Tenant Resource Center being the fiscal agent is.”
Regarding alternative request Number 1 for correspondence or other written documents: Please accept this email as official notice that source of the donations in HHN 15 are Downtown Madison, Inc. (also known as “DMI”) and the United Way of Dane County (also known as “UWDC”) and the “private partners” referenced in HHN 9 are DMI and UWDC.
Regarding alternative request Number 2 for correspondence or other written documents: I have been assured that Mr. Parisi, Ms. Green, Mr. Kostelic and Mr. Saterfield (or their staff) have completed a thorough search of their files and, except for the enclosure, they do not have documents that describe any issues with Tenant Resource Center being the fiscal agent for Shine608. The one exception is a hard copy of an October 22, 2013 email to Mr. Kostelic.
While Mr. Kostelic had specific recollection of receiving the enclosed email, Mr. Parisi, Ms. Green, and Mr. Saterfield do not remember receiving emails that could be responsive to your request. Please note that Dane County has not attempted a complete search of all emails sent or received by Mr. Parisi, Ms. Green, Mr. Kostelic and Mr. Saterfield between August 1, 2012 and December 15, 2013 because, as stated in my earlier letter, Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(h) requires requests for records to reasonably describe the records or the information requested. Therefore,
your request is not reasonable under Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(h) and is denied.
Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 19.35(4)(b), I am required to inform you that if you disagree with any determinations contained in this letter you may seek review by mandamus under Wis. Stat. § 19.37(1), or by application to the attorney general or a district attorney.
Risk Manager & Records Control Officer
I’m guessing if they actually searched for documents they would find more and I would get some more juicy information – I’m not going to push it at this point, as long as no other issues arise. I got the answer I wanted.
United Way – Working the TRC is a “non-starter”
So, its the United Waythat put it in writing that working with the TRC is a “non-starter”.
From: Deedra Atkinson
Sent: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 9:27 AM
To: Kostelic, Jeffrey
Cc: Stronach, Bonnie
Subject: Do you have a rough budget for the Day Resource Center?
Jeff, Could you send me a budget for the proposed Day Resource Center? We’d like to see your vision for how the center would operate.
One thing to let you know….we learned Shine608′s financial agent is Tenant Resource Center. We have no issues with Shine608, and admire their work, but have had several issues with financial management of TRC. Working through TRC on financial management is a non-starter for us based on their history with us on FEMA funds and stewardship of donor funds. But, we could see other options for that, too.
Deedra G. Atkinson
Senior Vice President of Community Impact
United Way of Dane County 608.246.4345
Background on why United Way doesn’t want to work with me
1. We are not a United Way agency, the Tenant Resource Center and its predecessor Madison Tenant Union have been members of Community Shares since 1969.
2. The woman who sent this email was OUTRAGED over the fact that a 2 week old baby was camping at the campground 2 summers ago and she yelled at me in the Homeless Issues Committee “Brenda! This is a baby!” Yeah, I know, but no one had any better answers. I have no idea why she was yelling at me – what was I supposed to do? They weren’t accepted at the shelter – they were given a voucher from Salvation Army for a few days after the baby was born, but that was it. I don’t know why she was yelling at me – was I supposed to do nothing? This, and several other incidents, earned her the nickname “sourpuss” with several of the committee members and homeless people I work with. Anyways, I need to tell you the rest of the story is that child protective services came and took the baby, and then everyone got lawyers, we got in front of a judge, the judge returned the baby WITHIN AN HOUR when we said they could live in my house. The lawyers said that even tho they can’t take a baby simply because the parents are homeless, having a home to go to was the only way to get the 2 week old baby back immediately. The family ended up living in my house for 10 months until they were off paper from the incident – and then were homeless again, because all the social workers in the world couldn’t find them housing, or jobs. Longer story, but yeah. I guess that’s my fault.
When it became clear that it might be the United Way, I sent this email. I got no response.
from: Brenda Konkel
date: Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 12:18 PM
subject: TRC as fiscal agent for Shine 608?
I’m wondering if you can help me with something. I’m trying to figure out what the objection to TRC being the fiscal agent for Shine 608 is – for the day resource center. I haven’t been able to get anyone to tell me and at least one person is telling me that the United Way is the one making this demand – but nothing official.
Who do I talk to at the United Way about this? Or do either of you know what is going on? If its just that we are not a United Way agency, I kinda get that. If it is something more than that, I really want to know what concern might be out there about our agency. Or maybe, its not United Way making the request?
I’d appreciate any help you might give me in getting to the bottom of this.
When I got the open records response request I sent this email:
from: Brenda Konkel
date: Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM
subject: Re: TRC as fiscal agent for Shine 608?
Hello again -
Could you please explain the attached? What issues do you have with our financial management? Especially in regard to donor stewardship as we receive no funds from Dane County United Way donors. Thank you!
I expect no response.
3. Here’s the explanation on FEMA from my staff – which was over $2,000, but less than $3,000 for eviction prevention dollars. They assured me, repeatedly, that they thought that this was just misunderstanding and everything was resolved.
I submitted our FEMA application on November 7 in which we summarized the misunderstanding last year, over when TRC had to spend the funds. In May 2013 I recall having phone conversations with Martha Cranley in which we realized that, due to staff turnover and a misunderstanding of the grant requirements, TRC had accepted FEMA funds which were intended to reimburse us for grants in 2012. However, since TRC only spends FEMA grants when we have money in hand, and since the FEMA funds came to us in 2013, we were unable to spend them. We promptly repaid the grant money. My recollection, confirmed in e-mails, is that Martha was very helpful in sorting through our options and explaining things to me (I was new in the position and had never dealt with FEMA) and that things went smoothly in repaying the funds. There was no indication that this problem would impact our applications for future funds.
I then attended the FEMA board presentation at United Way on November 15. My presentation mostly focused on client need for rental assistance, and TRC/HHD’s particular skills at helping prevent eviction with the funds, given that we are 2-1-1′s referral for RA, and that our housing counselors are trained to assist with many other problems associated with eviction/nonpayment of rent which can prevent eviction.
Rob Dicke informed me that there were two options for the FEMA funds: Spend them by the end of 2013, or extend the deadline until March (or possibly May?) 2014. At that time, the FEMA board had not decided which way to do it. Rob said there had been an issue with us spending the funds on time last year, and did we forsee any problems spending the funds on either of those timlines? I said no: That in all other years to my knowledge, we spend funds by the end of the year if necessary, even when we only have a few weeks to do it in. I offered statistics from the HHD showing that our requests for FEMA funds in the month of December are usually double what we were requesting from the board, and far exceed the actual awards we’ve received in recent years. Of course, if we had even longer to spend the funds, we would simply budget for fewer grants per month and extend them until the new deadline. That was the only question regarding the mistake with not spending last year’s funds.
When I left, Martha walked me out and said I had given a very good presentation. At the meeting she had given me two additional forms to fill out but I needed information which was back at the office; I sent her a scanned copy and e-mailed hard copies that afternoon.
This is the response I got from Martha at the time – informing us we were not awarded funds.
Dear Brenda –
On behalf of the Dane County Emergency Food and Shelter Board, thank you for your commitment to meeting the most basic needs of our community.
Each year the need in Dane County far outpaces the funds available and the board is faced with difficult choices in meeting those needs. I appreciate the time that you spent preparing the proposal and that Anders took to appear at the board meeting.
After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that the board has decided not to fund The Tenant Resource Center’s request for rent assistance/eviction prevention funding. The board wished me to encourage you to continue to work with other partners in the community to obtain rent assistance for low income clients.
Please be assured that Tenant Resource Center remains eligible to apply for funds in the next phase of federal funding in 2014.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
M. Martha Cranley
Director of Community Impact and Strategic Communication
United Way of Dane County
No indication of serious concerns. Not even a hint.
4. Donors? We don’t have donors from the United Way – at least not here in Dane County. We may have gotten 1 or 2 in the 18 years I’ve been working at TRC. So I have no idea where they get that from. Honestly, no clue. So, I hope they answer me, I need to know if there is someone out there that is unsatisfied with TRC and their donation. I personally think that a dollar given to TRC stretches way farther than most organizations. We are lean and mean and work with duct tape and bubble gum. We don’t have fancy offices (all hand me down computers and furniture, even the carpeting is reused) and we don’t have high salaries (we mostly stay just .50 ahead of the living wage), we don’t waste money on anything if we can help it (no fancy posters, color printing, swag, paying consultants, etc.) so that we can pay more staff minimally. So, I’d love to hear what the concern is. I hope we don’t have any unhappy donors!
I was primarily concerned about what the issue with TRC was – and now I have a few more hints. I’ll follow up with DMI as well and see if they have anything to say. I’m guessing nothing they will tell me.
Secondarily, as a taxpayer, I’m annoyed at how the county wastes money. In forcing Shine608 to get another fiscal agent, they are wasting the following money and resources:
- Staff time (They are only getting $8K from the county at the moment and they are wasting it on this? Finding a new fiscal agent.)
- The county is signing a contract directly with Shine 608 instead of with TRC like the city did and they are forcing them to get their own insurance, won’t accept TRC’s certificate of insurance, like the city did.
- A new fiscal agent won’t charge them cost, but likely 5 – 10% of what they take in, $7,500 – $15,000. TRC was budgeted 1 hour a week, but charging actual costs of staff time.
- They will need to get their own audit, which will cost them $5,000 – 6,000. They would have split the cost with TRC, now they are doubling their costs.
- TRC allows them to use office space and computers and phones and copiers since they don’t have those now – not sure if a new fiscal agent will do that. TRC also has private meeting rooms if people don’t want to meet in the glass walls at the library. (We consider ourselves good community partners and will likely continue this.)
- TRC can write a check in 5 minutes if they need it. Most larger agencies have much more procedure.
- They can purchase TRC services, so if staff are needed, we will be cross trained to fill in for them in emergencies or for vacations. TRC is also cross training them in tenant-landlord law. (We will likely continue this.)
- I’ll also add, Sarah and Z! have been getting paid for weeks, but we have not seen a dime of city or county money (city should be on its way) and we are fronting all that money – not sure another organization would do that.
Third, I can’t tell what United Way’s game is here. Are they trying to force Shine608 to be a United Way agency? If so, why? Control? Or think they are slapping TRC because we are not a United Way agency? They have tried to get us to be. I don’t understand why they are funding homeless services at all, because their mantra is that we need affordable housing and services for homeless is money down the drain. Housing is all that matters to them. This concerns me, is this money only for this year? What happens when they change their priorities? Will this funding continue into the future – because many non-profits have suffered when the United Way suddenly changes direction. Once they got their kudos for helping and the press, will they disappear. I’m guessing they will.
Finally . . . COMMUNITY SHARES!!!! Social Justice and advocacy agencies working hard in our community . . . remember them when it comes to workplace giving campaigns . . . . and end of the year donations.
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