City disqualified for rehab grant due to error

March 5, 2014 11:37:10 AM

Nathan Gregory - ngregory@cdispatch.com

 

Mississippi Development Authority public relations and media manager Jeff Rent confirmed the city of Columbus' HOME rehabilitation/reconstruction grant application did not pass because publication guidelines prior to a public hearing were not met. 

 

Columbus Federal Programs Director Travis Jones, who manages the city's grant applications, conducted a public hearing during the council's Feb. 4 meeting to inform residents of the city's intent to apply for the competitive homeowner rehabilitation/reconstruction grant program, which has nearly $4 million earmarked to assist low-income families who live in dilapidated residences so they can make needed repairs. City residents who qualified were asked to sign a form documenting their needs and the office of federal programs would apply for funding on their behalf. 

 

However, the city posted notice of the meeting in The Dispatch on Jan. 8. Grant guidelines dictated that notice be published at least 14 days but no more than 20 days before the hearing date. Jan. 8 is 26 days prior to the hearing date. 

 

Rent said the MDA sent a notification to the city that the application did not meet all guidelines Feb. 27.  

 

After a lengthy executive session Tuesday night, the city council entertained and tabled three personnel matters regarding the office of federal programs until their next regular meeting. The three employees in question were not named, but Travis Jones was in the room with councilmen during much of the session, as was special assistant director George Irby and secretary Loria Porter. The matters were tabled because city employees have the right to an appeal process and the time window to file the appeal for the three personnel issues discussed has not yet expired, city attorney Jeff Turnage said. 

 

The city's personnel handbook states that employees can appeal disciplinary actions rendered by their department heads or immediate supervisors to the mayor and council by notifying the city's secretary-treasurer within three calendar days of learning about the action. 

 

Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong is Jones' immediate supervisor. 

 

Jones, Irby and Porter are the only three listed Office of Federal Programs employees on the city's website. 

 

Armstrong suspended Jones for five days without pay in November for "inattention to duty." Jones made a mathematical error in a grant application that made the city ineligible for grant funding through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The council approved to match $100,000, or 17 percent of $600,000 to renovate City Hall. MDAH grant guidelines required at least a 20 percent match and disqualified applications that didn't meet that requirement.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.