Too many of our elected think they’re the bosses.

That’s not necessarily true, though, is it, that elected official equals the boss? There are leaders everywhere, unelected peoples who step forward and people follow them and believe in them. As a matter of fact, the City of Harrisburg is simmering with emerging leaders who are rising from the base of the community, committed and devoted to the overall cause to make Harrisburg better. A groundswell from the ground up.

It has to be that way or otherwise the City will continue teetering on an unstable foundation, and it’s really only a matter of time until the cracks and fissures can’t and won’t be filled in.

Linda Thompson as Mayor has demonstrated the opposite approach. From the very day she marched triumphantly down the streets of Harrisburg after her inauguration decked in fur and flanked by police, Thompson has indicated not only that she believes in a top down leadership model, but also that she believes the Mayor is the boss of the City. Never mind the fact that she consistently refers to herself in third person as “the Mayor” as if to remind everyone including herself of her title, but she has on more than one occasion stated, “I am the Mayor!” In fact, that phrase was a part of her campaign kickoff speech.

It was also fiercely proclaimed during a meeting on February 6th at Wesley Union Ame Zion Church located at 5th and Camp Streets.

This meeting was the fifth meeting of a growing group of participants that started as Penn State Harrisburg, Community Action Commission, and the City of Harrisburg. Together these entities have been working to develop a strategy to apply for a $1,000,000 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program FY 2013 Competitive Grant in order to revitalize and rehabilitate the City of Harrisburg’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Initially looking broadly at both the South Allison Hill and Uptown districts, the group narrowed down the focus of the application to census tract 207, the area of Maclay to Radnor Streets, N4th to N7th Streets.

By identifying this tract, they identified who and what they needed to fulfill the grant requirement. Since it’s federal money, the 38 page guideline is quite specific on eligibility requirements and expectations. Anyone who is going to apply had better be serious about doing it, especially in this case when so little time is afforded. The application deadline is March 4th and there’s a lot of data to locate, collect, and submit. A lot of data.

That’s why it’s fortunate such an initial team came together to do this. Initiated by Mike Behney, Director of the Institute of State and Regional Affairs, the core group includes professionals and community organizers with various knowledge, skills, and experience in grant writing and project development, especially involving federal dollars, which is not the easiest process to acquire. The applications are entailed, the data expected is hefty, and the responsibilities lofty.

One of the most integral aspects of establishing a viable federal grant application is choosing a viable fiscal agent. The fiscal agent becomes the applicant, is charged with overseeing the project’s partners, manages any sub-awards, strives to leverage other funding, and is the one who is legally responsible for the federal funds.

This is where tensions surfaced at the meeting last week. It’s why the Mayor showed up with practically a full cabinet and Sylvia Rigal (we’ll get to her in a bit).

It was all about the issue of the fiscal agent.

One of the very first things the group did when it first met in January was determine the fiscal agent to be Community Action Commission (CAC), an established nonprofit in the City with a track record of successful grant writing, financial astuteness, and proven methods of programming and collaboration. CAC’s Executive Director Kathy Possinger previously worked at the City as Deputy Director of Building and Housing and is well versed in federal funding requirements most notably HUD funding. She’s organized and managed millions of federal dollars.

It makes complete sense that the group decided early on to appoint CAC as the fiscal agent.

And even though four strategy sessions transpired and various City of Harrisburg representatives attended, it was on Wednesday, February 6th that someone objected to CAC as the fiscal agent on the grant application. Mayor Linda Thompson declared it should be the City.

“It’s the issue of the City being the most unbiased institution in the room,” Thompson irately said. “‘Cause alls we look for is partners to help us get it done because the city government can’t do it all.”

She’s right about that second part. A city government can’t do it all, nor should it. This is especially true in a place like the City of Harrisburg that has two general problems with looking to government to do it all: 1) the money isn’t there 2) there’s too much demand.

Based on the percentage of impoverished residents we have in the City, entitlement programs are common. However, there’s another realm of entitlement that is prevalent in Harrisburg and it’s a calculation that there is money out there to be gotten—local, state, and federal funds just waiting for applicants and awardees. Purposes, programs, and non profits are created so that monies can be accessed, yet not always is it clear the management or true intent is in place.  Money too often becomes the motivator, and if someone can get the money, especially someone at the top, especially if it’s a lot of money, then it can too easily teeter into the politics of ego, pandering, and nepotism.

There’s a strong argument to be made that this is why the Mayor got so angry at the meeting. She has a plan to bestow that money on her constituents in Uptown Harrisburg (not in Allison Hill…the Mayor was very clear that she’s spending no more money there). In fact, she came with a plan—the Neighborhood Safety Zone. She declared she’s been working on it over the past year and that she is about to pubilcly unveil it in a couple of weeks.

She came angry with her plan in hand, and she got angrier while she was there revealing classic Linda Thompson techniques of deviation—raising her voice, talking fast, using hyperbole. Yes, at one point she exclaimed, “I am the Mayor!”

She demanded lists of names of people at the meetings (all she had to do was review the minutes), she wanted to know why more people weren’t included (the minutes indicate more people are being included each time), she chastised the group for a lack of community outreach. That’s why she brought Sylvia Rigal. “I invited her,” the Mayor said signaling to Uptown resident Rigal. Indeed, the Mayor made sure Sylvia Rigal was there. If that name seems familiar, it’s because Rigal is a Dauphin County Democratic woman for 10-2. She’s also the resident who is chiefly responsible for getting City Council President Wanda Williams to bulldoze the Green Urban Initiative N6th Street Community Garden with her tenacious complaining. The community garden destroyed without due process and without consequences of such egregious exercising of power and public resources. (read that story here)

Rigal had no problem backing the Mayor’s call for the City of Harrisburg to be the fiscal agent on the federal grant application. She said, “I know people in every area of this City. So, I mean, for me….I would rally my immediate community and anybody in the surrounding community to say let’s let the City disperse the funds.” She said she wants to have access to the fiscal agent as elected leaders. “That we go to with complaints if we don’t think this money is being done fairly for the community.”

What the community of Harrisburg must know and understand is that the Thompson Administration is not a viable fiscal agent. It doesn’t matter if the Mayor has a plan to fix Uptown for Sylvia Rigal and whomever Rigal will get to rally for Linda Thompson this election season. The plain and simple fact is it is highly unlikely, even impossible, that the City as applicant will be granted federal dollars.

One of the things the federal government will look at is how has the applicant handled federal dollars in the past.

In the case of the Thompson Administration, there are bad examples.

HUD funding for one. There are about fourteen non profits in this city that had to wait one year to access their HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awards because the Administration was “confused” by the process, to quote a HUD representative. The delay resulted in the Heinz Menaker Senior Center not being able to replace its roof, the Central Allison Hill Community Center not getting air conditioning, and the Broad Street Market taking two years longer than expected to replace the HVAC system. Many other organizations like Habitat for Humanity and PA Fair Housing Council were handicapped by the stalling of the City’s HUD program.

Secondly—and this one’s a bit ironic—the City of Harrisburg recently risked losing a Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant because the monies weren’t used in appropriate time. In July of 2009, Harrisburg was granted $1,689,665 to hire 8 full time police officers. While officers were hired under the previous Administration, four spots remained. Unfortunately it took Thompson three years to fulfill the grant, and because of that, the grant was in peril. Mayor Thompson acknowledged this during the 2013 Budget presentation she made in front of City Council. She said it was the State’s fault because they didn’t give her approval to hire the officers until the deadline for training had already lapsed. That’s why they weren’t hired in 2012, she said. But what about 2011 and 2010? Why weren’t the grants used then?

So as to not lose the funding, 8 officers were hired in January and the Mayor promises another 8 in July. As far as she’s concerned, it’s all good now.

Oh, and why is this one a bit ironic? It’s ironic because the 2009 police funding is from the Department of Justice just like the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program grant the Uptown group is going for, the one the Mayor is publicly insisting her Administration be the fiscal agent for. That is, it’s the same vein of funding the City of Harrisburg has in the not so distant past demonstrated an inability to administer.

Of course, we can also bring up the severely held up City of Harrisburg audits, too.

These examples beg the question—Does the City of Harrisburg currently meet the criteria of fiscal agent for federal funds?

Our Mayor doesn’t seem to be thinking about that. She seems to be thinking about her latest plan and the money she needs to implement it.  “We need more money,” she proclaimed at one point during the meeting.

We do need more money. The City of Harrisburg desperately does. Not the Thompson Administration necessarily. The proof is in the pudding. While more money is needed, so is a different approach to the ways we do things in the City. In order for there to be more successes around here, we have to work from the ground up to find the most qualified and proven representatives of the community. It’s time that the citizens encourage and let the real leaders step up and be leaders. Just because they don’t come out of City Hall doesn’t mean they can’t do an effective job for the public will. Just because they aren’t elected doesn’t mean they aren’t devoted and focused on the common good. It doesn’t mean they can’t head a project that makes Harrisburg better.

If new concepts of “leadership” are given a chance to emerge, the City of Harrisburg will truly flourish, and the citizens will know who to support. They’ll know because real things will be getting done, things that can be noticed like clean streets, vacant buildings rehabbed, and safe corners. There will be a difference in the world when a resident steps out the door. The City will change after not changing for far too long.

The Mayor said, “I don’t need people coming in here making decisions, who want to be bullies and absolutely don’t represent the hearts of the people in this community. I grew up in Uptown Harrisburg, and I am born and raised in this City so I have perspective and I am a key stakeholder.”

So are the rest of the residents and taxpayers of the City. And just because she’s the Mayor, it doesn’t make her the boss.

One of three things will happen: a) the Mayor will get her way and the application will be weakened b) the process will continue as it was c) the project will get put on hold until the Thompson Administration changes. Let’s hope for b. Also, let’s not get distracted by the Mayor saying not enough community has been involved. Smoke and mirrors, as she likes to say. The Uptown group clearly has a plan to engage inclusively, and it’s grown in number each time it’s met. Linda Thompson accusing them of leaving people out is yet another one of her tactics. We can’t let ourselves get divided by her. What community has she been including over the past year she’s been gearing up her project? Or do we have to wait for the press conference to find that out.

A public informational meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 11, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at Wesley Union AME Zion Church, 5th and Camp Streets, hosted by the Camp Curtin Community Neighbors United.

For information on the work that’s been done on the $1,000,000 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program FY 2013 Competitive Grant, see here.

Updated Monday, February 11th. In the original article published Sunday February 10th, erroneous information was presented. It was originally presented that in 2009, the City of Harrisburg was awarded a second grant to hire police officers. I listed that two grants were awarded for the hiring of police officers but per the Harrisburg Bureau of Police, there was only one. It appears the first grant was included twice on the grant list obtained.



Listen to a portion of the February 6, 2013 meeting below. Held at 3:00pm at Wesley Union AME Zion Church, 5th and Camp Streets. Recorded & provided by Jonathan Smith, SmithCreate