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Confusion rises over PAL grant

July 11, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A City of Hagerstown official said the Washington County Commissioners failed to give the city 60 days written notice that they didn't plan to renew a grant for the Hagerstown Area Police Athletic League, which was required in a contract between the city and county governments.

Some county officials, however, said they interpret the contract differently and took the appropriate steps in handling the matter.

The July 2002 contract outlines the terms between the County Commissioners and the city, in which the city was to establish an after-school mentoring program provided by the Police Athletic League (PAL).

Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families awarded the grant to PAL, which paid $43,479 for the salary of Hagerstown Police Officer Brett McKoy to serve as PAL's full-time coordinator. The grant money came from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

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City Director of Administrative Services John Budesky said the contract states the commissioners were required to give the city written notice of whether they decided to renew the contract for after-school services provided by PAL.

"This Contract shall commence as of July 1, 2002, and shall terminate on June 30, 2003, with an option by the BCC (Board of County Commissioners) to renew for an additional one-year period commencing on July 1, 2003, subject to written notice given by the BCC at least sixty calendar days prior to June 30, 2003," the contract states.

Budesky, who previously served as the Community Partnership's director, said the 60-day written notice on whether to renew was standard procedure for the organization.

Instead, he said the city found out the contract wasn't being renewed June 5, less than a month before it was to expire.

But Community Partnership Director Stephanie Stone said Thursday that the county only was required to give the 60 days notice if it had planned on renewing the contract.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said this week he also understood the paragraph to mean the 60-day written notice only was required if the contract was going to be renewed.

And while the contract was made with the commissioners, the commissioners said they never discussed the contract issue. They said the full board was not notified about the matter until County Administrator Rodney Shoop told them at a June 24 meeting that the Community Partnership already had made the decision not to renew it.

Community Partnership staff had approached Shoop with a recommendation to not renew the contract, stating PAL was not complying with the requirements of the state grant, Stone said.

Stone said among the reasons the contract was not renewed was because PAL wasn't open enough after-school hours and that it had problems attracting children.

Shoop then approved the Community Partnership's recommendation not to renew the contract, Stone said.

"He said the position was supported by the county based on the information he had," Stone said.

The commissioners said this week that there is some confusion over whether Shoop had the authority to act on an agreement made by the commissioners.

"I don't know that Rodney has the authority to make that decision on behalf of the board," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

"It should've been us, I think, but Rod Shoop did it on his own," Commissioner John C. Munson said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Shoop does have the power to make decisions on behalf of the commissioners.

"Rod can always act in our stead because he's the county administrator," Nipps said.

Shoop said Thursday that county staff often makes such decisions.

"The staff makes decisions or recommendations on things like that day in and day out," Shoop said. "The staff makes decisions on some things and on other ones it's appropriate for the commissioners to make decisions."

"From a staff standpoint, this is business as usual," Shoop said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Thursday he thought Shoop made the decision on behalf of the commissioners because none of them were available at the time.

He said the commissioners probably will review the PAL matter on Tuesday and possibly make some kind of decision to resolve the matter.

"I don't think any of the commissioners are completely aware of what is in that contract," Snook said. "We'll have to look at that. I'd like to try to put it to rest as soon as possible."

Shoop, Stone and Snook said the county also plans to refine its policy on contract renewals so that there's no confusion in the future.

Wivell said the county may not have handled the PAL issue properly, but that doesn't mean the outcome would have changed if it had done things a different way.

"I think probably mistakes were made, but some of the employees are new and we all make mistakes," Wivell said. "Whether or not the results would have been any different ... I think not."

Budesky said he has respect for the Community Partnership and the county and hopes to settle their differences. He has sent a letter to Snook asking the county to renew the contract with PAL.

He said that while PAL's after-school program could have been improved, the organization was given less than a year to set it up. Budesky also said the organization was successful in its other functions, including providing athletic programs for youth.

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