News Column

Springfield grant writer terminated

August 10, 2014

By Ben Kleine, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.



Aug. 10--SPRINGFIELD -- Springfield's experiment with raising money by hiring a grant writer has ended.

Commissioners voted last week to terminate the city's contract with grant writer Kay Stripling effective at the end of August.

Stripling had been working with the city since late May, but city officials said that in that time she may have cost the city an opportunity to get $1.8 million from state and federal sources. City Clerk Lee Penton said her termination stemmed from the role she played in requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the governor's office.

In May, city Public Works Director Lee French was talking with a FEMA representative about potentially receiving disaster relief funding to use for dredging after flooding. Stripling said she asked about a loan for $800,000, what she was led to believe was the city's active deficit.

Once that request was made, FEMA backed away from offering any disaster relief funding, Penton said. Mayor Ralph Hammond said that may have cost the city more than $1 million.

"That sent up a red flag," Penton said.

FEMA External Affairs Officer Mary Hudak said the most common reasons why the agency does not grant disaster assistance are because what a city is asking for is either not eligible or is covered by insurance. She added the agency does not grant loans. She did not have specific knowledge of any requests from Springfield.

Penton also said there was a separate incident where Stripling asked Gov. Rick Scott's office for an $800,000 loan. Stripling confirmed asking for the loan, but that was after the city had already sent two letters to the governor's office.

However, a review of city records shows Hammond had sent two previous letters to the chief inspector general, the first on March 12 and second on March 28, but none to the governor's office. The first letter stated Springfield was in a financial emergency. The second asked for an $800,000 loan with a six-year repayment plan, in part because the city lost $623,201 with its city-owned cable utility. The letter also mentions improper utility rates; the city lost $97,121 on utility rates in 2013.

A letter back from the chief inspector general recommended the city pursue a loan through the Legislature.

Penton confirmed the only letter sent to the governor's office was from Stripling.

Stripling was not at meeting where she was fired.

Response

Stripling said she was not invited to the City Commission meeting before her employment was discussed and she feels maligned she was not able to defend herself.

"I've felt like I've done nothing but represent myself in a fair manner," Stripling said.

The commission was upset the city had not received any grants. Penton said Stripling had been pursuing loans, which the city was not interested in.

"There's been no grants, no loans, no nothing," Hammond said.

Penton noted that since Stripling was hired in May, there was not much time to apply for grants, many of which are not available until fall.

Stripling said she operated in the first two weeks on the job with the understanding the city was in a state of financial crisis, operating with an active deficit of about $800,000. She first pursued traditional loans until she was told by bank officials the city could not receive a loan because of the city's financial situation.

The bank representative"made it abundantly clear that they (Springfield) could not get a loan in any way, shape or form," Stripling said.

Stripling added that she was pursuing grants for a city park and fire department before she was terminated. She said it was impossible to apply for larger grants without updated financial information. The city is three years behind in its audits, having just received the audit from 2011-12.

Stripling was being paid $1,300 per month, plus commission, which was not stipulated in the contract. Her final check was for the month of August.

"I think they just can't afford me," Stripling said.

___

(c)2014 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

Visit The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.) at www.newsherald.com

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Source: News Herald (Panama City, FL)


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