As a taxpayer, I routinely like to look into just how and where my hard-earned dollars are being spent by those in the government. One such endeavor led me to the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation (DRC) website, where I was hoping to find information about a $1.5 million grant.
Then I saw this line: “A copy of DRC's governing documents, conflict of interest policy, and most recent financial statements are available upon request.” So I made a request via email.
Then I figured I would go “old school” and pick up the telephone to request a copy of the grant.
Once again, nothing.
I would think that we taxpayers have the right to see how our money, which is being used to fund a nonprofit organization, is being spent. However, that seems to not be the case with the DRC.
Admittedly, I am a bit cynical, so this naturally led me to think that there might be a cover up of sorts regarding the grant funding. But, no matter how hard I tried to dispel my cynicism, it kept leading me back down the “cover up” path.
Why, you ask? Well, for one thing, Common Cause of Maryland stated that the DRC needs to be transparent in its ventures to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Additionally, the county code clearly frowns upon any dealings that might erode the public confidence and trust. Read the following, focusing on section (b):
§ 7-1-102. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE AND POLICY.
(a) Findings and declaration. The County Council, in recognition that representative government is dependent in part on the people maintaining the highest trust in their public officials, finds and declares that the people have a right to be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of public officials will be maintained.
(b) Public confidence and trust. It is evident that public confidence and trust is eroded when the conduct of county business is subject to improper influence or when there is the appearance of improper influence.
(c) Statement of purpose. For the purpose of guarding against improper influence, the County Council enacts this title to:
(1) Require public officials to disclose their financial affairs; and
(2) Set minimum standards for the conduct of county business by public officials.
(d) Construction. It is the intention of the County Council that this title, except for its provisions regarding criminal sanctions, be liberally construed to accomplish the purpose of guarding against improper influence.
(1988 Code, § 28-1) (Bill No. 91-99, § 2, 7-1-2004)
With that said, has the DRC drawn a line in the mud sand regarding its dealings with public officials and public funding? Let’s take a look at the players in the “sandbox,” because they are the proverbial laces that tie up this whole situation, specifically in reference to good old section (b).
· Councilman John Olszewski, Sr. of the 7th District
· Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. of the 6th District
· Dave Janiszewski DRC Board Member and representative to Del. Olszewski, Jr.
· Amy Menzer, Ph.D., DRC Executive Director
· Scott Holupka, Ph.D., husband of Amy Menzer
There are more, but this list will do for now.
Honestly, this list reminds me of a Facebook friends list. On Facebook, you can chit chat back and forth with your favorite people and exchange all kinds of goodies. However, public interest is not social media. Simply put, in this case those “goodies” take the form of tax dollars. And those tax dollars shouldn’t require a Friend Request to be accessed.
Simply stated, if you are not part of the political “clique,” then don’t expect to get any funding.
Now that we’ve named names, let’s ask some tough questions. First, why didn’t our own District 7 councilman, John Olszewski, Sr., write the resolution needed to acquire the funding? And, for those of you that don’t know what the resolution said, here is an excerpt:
WHEREAS, The Dundalk Renaissance Corporation proposes to develop a Dundalk Revitalization Strategy (the “Project”), as further described in its Application, the purpose of which is to, among other things, create and maintain high-quality affordable home ownership and rental opportunities for people of all ages in Dundalk, thereby contributing to the reinvestment in and revitalization the area…”
The answer is: the councilman did not write that resolution was to avoid a conflict of interest involving his ties to the DRC.
Obviously, this excerpt is only a small
part of the resolution (there are a few more “WHEREAS” sections—must be a
popular legal term), but the key words are displayed here: rental
opportunities and affordable home ownership.
But what exactly does this mean for the community? That is what I expected to find out from the grant, wherever it might be.
Folks, these are YOUR tax dollars, and they should be accounted for specifically. This is not the DRC’s money, and the organization must be held accountable for its actions.
As a famous person has been quoted saying, “That’s the bottom line.”
Lastly, let’s take a look at a recent letter from the DRC to the county. I especially like this quote: “We encourage you to work with us to take advantage of that interest in investment in our community and explore a variety of options for a reuse of the County site that might benefit the neighborhoods and attract potential new businesses to Merritt Boulevard as well.”
Now let me make this perfectly clear—there is nothing wrong with the DRC’s goals. All I am saying is that we—the people who paid for this venture—should know exactly what is happening with said venture.
Remember what Common Cause said:
transparency is needed. Jennifer Dangle, the Executive Director of Maryland's CC said this issue is very concerning to her including other issues in Dundalk that seem to follow the same path or to be precise, the lack of transparency.
Otherwise, people like me come along and start connecting the dots, which usually lead to a hot spot.Enough said … for now.