And here you thought the controversy over the money spent out of the BRAVE program in Baton Rouge was winding down, when it’s only just getting started.
The current round of fireworks came courtesy of a nine-page report put out by mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome, whose essential statement on the controversy surrounding the contracts issued under the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, or BRAVE, anti-crime initiative was that all of the things people object to were already in motion under previous mayor-president Kip Holden.
A report issued by the mayor’s office late Monday on BRAVE grant funding attempts to demonstrate that the problems in the project started before she took office.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome asked for the analysis after she had to suspend several contracts in the wake of one of the contractors suggesting at a Metro Council meeting that the ambush murder of three law enforcement officers a year ago was “justice.”
Contracts — including the one for Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed — were initially highlighted in a post by The Hayride following research done by Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso. Amoroso told reporters he was concerned about how contracts were handled – especially with contract amounts less than the minimum for council approval.
The mayor’s report Monday said $1.6 million in grant funds had been frozen in February because progress reports had not been submitted. After a phone conference between the federal agency managing the grant and Broome’s assistant chief administrative officer, it appeared unlikely that the grant would be extended.
The project was only serving eight clients at the time, Broome’s report said.
Still, the mayor’s office tried to find ways to win back the use of the already granted funds and to extend the grant’s contract. The funds were unfrozen but the contract was not extended.
The office claims that it conferred with the managing federal agency before using the remaining the funds to make contracts that would address several perceived shortcomings of the program in its current state. These improvements reportedly entailed using funds for community programming related to the arts, sports, and other activities.
Essentially, the complaint by Broome’s office is that Holden’s people weren’t current with their paperwork and that’s the reason the BRAVE money wasn’t going to continue to flow from the federal government.
They may not be wrong about that. Statements by federal officials involved in the BRAVE program indicate that the federal grant was in jeopardy when Broome took office, though whether that’s due to mismanagement by Holden, or by Broome, or simply because federal grants aren’t a permanent source of local government revenue no matter what they’re for are a question we’re not sure the answer of is available at the moment.
None of which particularly excuses Broome and her people for throwing around some of the more generous contracts to political allies which got this controversy started in the first place. Cleve Dunn’s $17,500 contract to provide a taxi service for BRAVE participants, for example, or Isaiah Marshall’s $9,500 (if it was only $9,500, and not $19,000 by another name) to put on a couple of basketball tournaments. There were several questionable contracts included on Broome’s BRAVE list which were by no means continuations of previous practices.
Not to mention the $9,800 for Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, noted racial hustler and anti-police huckster, to teach at-risk kids respect for the cops.
The critique of Broome’s BRAVE spending has been, all along, that she looted the program to pay off her political allies. That her looting was caused by, rather than the cause of, the feds canceling their matching funds really doesn’t affect the critique; if Holden’s mismanagement meant BRAVE was going away it isn’t like dropping taxpayer funds to Dunn, Marshall, Reed and the others is any less indefensible.
And in the meantime, Holden has heard just about enough. He gave a fun interview to WAFB-TV’s Kiran Chawla Tuesday and essentially said the U.S. Attorney ought to look into what she’s done with the program…
Holden’s interest in talking to Chawla stands in contrast to that of the current mayor-president…
Who’s right on this? It’s a bit difficult for us to reflexively take Holden’s side, as the accelerating decline of Baton Rouge certainly bears his mark even if it may not have begun during his 12-year watch. But in comparison to Broome, who clearly used a program the chief aspect of which had been to use computer data to surge police into areas that data predicts would constitute the highest risk of violent crime in order to slather her political friends with porky city contracts, Holden might just look like a pillar of local governance.
And that’s an indication Baton Rouge is really at risk.