County letter prompts scrutiny of Southside training program

The Isaac Coleman community investment grant program is named for community leader Coleman, who died in 2016. Dee Williams, right, is project manager for one of seven projects funded through the grant program. Photos courtesy of Coleman and Williams
The Isaac Coleman community investment grant program is named for community leader Coleman, who died in 2016. Dee Williams, right, is project manager for one of seven projects funded through the grant program. Photos courtesy of Coleman and Williams

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6:07 p.m. The section “Severed ties” contains the new information obtained by Xpress since the original version was published.

Asheville, N.C. — A fledgling job training program in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood has struggled to get off the ground since receiving $111,804 from Buncombe County as one of the first recipients of the new Isaac Coleman Community Investment Grants. United Community Development received an official request from the county for corrective action after the county reviewed the organization’s first quarterly report for its Southside revitalization project.

According to United Community Development’s report, a planned masonry job skills program “was tabled” by the organization after negotiations with the masonry skills trainer broke down over disagreements on pay rates, paid time off and other contract provisions. Another reason the UCD gives for its decision to find an alternative to the masonry program is reduced demand for skilled brick masons as less expensive construction materials such as stucco gain favor with commercial contractors.

The discontinuance of the masonry program, the county wrote in its letter of Oct. 9, “is considered to be a performance deficiency.” The letter asks Dee Williams, as project manager for the grant contract, to freeze spending on budget line items totaling $60,078 of the total grant funds. To date, the project has spent $8,051.37 of its budget, which  includes $2,000 for a Southside Reunion event held at the Walton Street Park on Sept. 2-3.

Rachael Nygaard, the county’s director of strategic partnerships, says her staff is “brainstorming possible ways forward” in conjunction with United Community Development. In a meeting with the organization on Oct. 13, Nygaard says, county staff advised the group that the goal of the project “was to implement a program that would teach a job ready skill.”

Green infrastructure

In a revised report dated Oct. 15, Williams proposed a green infrastructure training program to replace the masonry program. “Green infrastructure construction jobs like greenway installation, street tree installation, permeable paver installation, swales construction, green roof installation, cistern sales and installations and maintenance of these are living-wage jobs that folks with a high school diploma can access with training,” Williams wrote.

The Isaac Coleman Review Group, the county advisory team that directed the grant funding, will review United Community Development’s revised proposal, which is due on Oct. 27. According to Nygaard, the county will provide a written response to the UCD’s new proposal by Dec. 1.

The “shared aspiration” of the United Community Development project is “to provide economic, social and cultural opportunities to black people in Asheville, using the Southside community as a template for equitable community economic development which will be led and controlled by the community,” according to a summary provided by Buncombe County. Other groups receiving funding under the Isaac Coleman investments include the ABIPA Cares Cooperative, the Johnston Elementary/Deaverview Community, the Emma Community, the My Community Matter Empowerment Program Collaboration with Positive Changes and Writers in Schools, the Shiloh Community Association and YTL Training/G.R.A.C.E. for Teens and Access for Mothers and Families.

Nygaard says United Community Development is the only recipient of Isaac Coleman funding that has received a request for corrective action from the county. County Commissioner Al Whitesides comments that, “You can’t just say, ‘We are taking a part out of the program,'” noting he is “concerned” about the issues that prompted the county’s letter.

In a political season

Williams, a candidate for Asheville City Council, says she believes the county’s questions about the program have “probably been used against me politically.” As a consultant to the project, however, Williams says she hasn’t been a part of the United Community Development board of directors’ decisions about which job training programs to pursue.

Over the first three months of the program, she says, the group has successfully negotiated a lease at 85 Choctaw St. in the basement of the Worldwide Missionary Baptist Tabernacle Church and has established a relationship with the construction manager of the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project. Williams hopes participants in the job training program will use their new skills to obtain jobs with the RADTIP.

Williams’ role as project manager for the United Community Development project is budgeted to pay her $31,176 for the year. By the end of the first quarter, she had received $4,800, according to the organization’s report.

Although Williams says the county “acted precipitously without talking to us first” in issuing the letter of corrective action, she remains committed to the project. “My job is to make sure [United Community Development is] back up and running. This has been a snag. It’s been a teachable moment, for them in the organization and for the county.”

Ray Mapp, who serves as vice president of the board of directors for UCD, says the project is on track and he remains supportive of Williams. “Everything is moving forward. I think there are people in the community who hope that we are not successful, who are maybe trying to create some controversy that doesn’t exist.”

Mapp says UCD has been pursuing its goal of developing economic opportunities for marginalized members of Asheville’s Southside community for the past four years. Prior to receiving the Isaac Coleman funding, he says, “We were doing this out of our own pocket.” The group’s motivations are not political, he continues. “Our reason for doing what we’re doing is just to improve the human race.”

Severed ties

Just before United Community Development submitted its performance report for the first quarter on Sept. 22, two county officials received a heads-up that all might not be well in the relationship between UCD and its Southside neighbors. On Sept. 20, Robert Hardy wrote to Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides and Lisa Eby, the county’s communications director. As president of the Southside Organization, Hardy says, he informed the county that his group could no longer collaborate with UCD in light of the discontinuation of the masonry program and concerns over the UCD’s 501(c)(3) status.

According to Hardy, UCD recruited Southside Organization to collaborate as a partner on the economic community development project. But Southside Organization, he writes in his letter, was never formally acknowledged as a partner in the effort by UCD: “Meager ‘lip service’ assistance has been offered, to the organization or the community.”

Regarding the masonry program, Hardy writes, “This program, as was originally explained, was to have a morning and evening class, appealed to community members who could possibly keep their current jobs, and at the same time receive training that would afford them skills which would increase their potential to earn a living wage.”

“After all, they presented the format, they presented the proposal — they being UCD — they presented the individual [masonry instructor] and gave him all types of accolades, as being 40 years in the business … They presented this to us, we bought into it on the basis of what they presented to us. And the bottom line is, it turned out not to be so,” Hardy tells Xpress.

Although he wouldn’t rule out working with UCD on future efforts, Hardy says he stands by his statement in the Sept. 20 letter that the Southside Organization “voted to retract and dissolve our support for the coalition” that had been formed to support the masonry job training program.

Xpress has not been able to confirm whether United Community Development’s 501(c)(3) status was suspended for some period of time during 2017, or what deficiencies might have led to a suspension, if it occurred. Xpress verified with the N.C. Secretary of State that the organization’s registration as a nonprofit corporation has remained “current, active and in compliance” since UCD’s inception in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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23 thoughts on “County letter prompts scrutiny of Southside training program

  1. jan kubiniec

    Goodness. All the reptiles are coming out against Dee. I’m going to vote for her. They must be scared of something.

    • NFB

      The reason they are “coming out” against her is her history. Go back and check out about her stint as director of the Opportunity Corporation of her history of Eastview Homes.

      Go back and look at her multiple runs for public office. She has run as a Democrat. She has run as a Republican. She has run as an independent. Just two years ago she ran on a slate with reactionary, far right Carl Mumpower. Two years later she is running as a Green party candidate. Her past clearly demonstrates that she has no real core principles other than her own self interest and self promotion. This article seems to do little but show more of the same.

      • NFB

        I will also add to that list that she several years ago she ran for City Council as a part of Chris Peterson’s team and his attempt to create a political machine to hand all of city government over to the developers interest wing of CIBO. Chris Peterson, Carl Mumpower, and now the Green party. Finger to the wind. She’s been all over the map. I’m glad MX is doing a little reporting on this since the ACT no longer does much in the way of coverage of local politics given that it is little more than a USA Today franchise.

      • Lou

        Good grief NFB…can’t you come up with anything new and original? You post essentially the same exact paragraph in response to every single letter about Dee or her work. Why are you so bent on her destruction? Disappointed she won the recent election and you didn’t perhaps?? That’s called sour grapes…not productive and not helpful.

        • luther blissett

          Yes, NFB is repetitive, but an easy way to settle this would be for official local media to ask Ms Williams how and why her political views and party affiliations have changed, especially between 2015 and today. After all, Cecil Bothwell’s changing party affiliation was considered headline news. Perhaps it’s a genuine conversion to the causes beloved by local Greens and DSA supporters. It would be a shame if she were just taking advantage of their enthusiasm to get elected.

        • SpareChange

          Lou, it’s worth noting that you offer nothing to refute NFB’s substantive points, which are simple enough to check by reviewing articles from past campaigns. The fact is, the observations made by NFB are simply true, and well worth repeating in the process of engaging and informing Asheville voters about a candidate who over the years has mainly distinguished herself as a political chameleon — and not a very effective one at that.

    • Lou

      Yes Jan, absolutely! I think she is a smart choice…certainly would be nice to see a bit of variety and not just a sea of elderly white men seated at the table.

      • Rich Lee

        Nobody left on council or in this race is remotely elderly. Cecil was the last one over 60. Only one current candidate is. Of the six remaining, four are 36, 37, 38 and 41.

      • SpareChange

        I would like to think that we’ve learned something from the last presidential election. Voting for someone just because they represent themselves as an outsider, an anti-establishment voice, or because they state things that may appeal at some gut level, is not a sufficient basis for putting someone in a leadership position.

        Ms. Williams reveals much in her response to the County’s action. As the article states: “As a consultant to the project, however, Williams says she hasn’t been a part of the United Community Development board of directors’ decisions about which job training programs to pursue.” Yet she has no problem apparently accepting $31,176 in salary, from a $111,804 grant. There’s no good way to interpret this. Either she has not been “hands on,” which suggests she is not doing the job for which she is paid, or she has been involved, but now looks to avoid any responsibility for the actions of the entity that pays her. Her campaign bio states that her “primary business is providing small business technical assistance and neighborhood community economic development.” If this is how she handles her “primary business,” then I worry how she will handle a part time job as a city council member.

        • Lulz

          We sure have learned something. The longer one is involved in the government, the more likely they are corrupt, traitorous, incompetent, self serving, and on par with any criminal currently locked up.

          Wanda Green is a perfect example. Long serving and able to move money around with the tacit approval of politicians who either didn’t care or didn’t do their job.

      • Lulz

        In case you haven’t noticed, the scam is to cycle up to the county commission from city council.

  2. AVLR

    There are plenty of capable choices of folks who will hold government accountable, including people of color, and women. Why do we need to put another narcissist in office in the hopes of stopping development? She only cares about herself, not “her people”. Why else would she go and duplicate a program that already existed in the same neighborhood? Obviously the county gave her the money so she would shut up because all she does is complain but it turns out she has no intention of actually doing good work. She just wants money that she feels she is owed.

    • Lou

      Oh I see…so a woman is a “complainer” but a man speaking his mind “gets things done”. Incredible sexist attitude you display, try another tactic because real women don’t fall for this BS. Bye now.

      • ReallyBro

        So despite the fact that Williams, and this organization UCD, can’t get a program running once funded, should be ignored cause she’s a woman of color? To me that shows she is an ineffective organizer. Either she doesn’t know how to advise the folks running this program to keep projects on track or has been ignoring problems. When confronted with legitimate criticism, she deflects it by claiming political sabotage rather than admitting little is getting done with this grant money.
        The fact that her political party, ideology, and how she plans to implement that ideology, has changed drastically in a relatively short time should be ignored only because she’s a woman of color?
        And your rational for her being a good candidate for city counsel, is that she is a woman of color, in a sea of old white folks? That makes no sense, why can’t we have a discussion about her achievements or lack of them, not her gender or race?

      • AVLR

        No Cecil was a complainer too. Better at Muckraking and I’m hope he continues to do so. Some people can manage and lead. Some people can point out problems. Dee is great at pointing out problems. Not managing and leading.

  3. Don

    Only in Asheville/Buncombe County could Dee Williams be a viable candidate. And why? ….because she is a minority candidate and a woman….. the only attributes that apparently matter to many voters. What a travesty.

    • Lulz

      LOL, you forget the first minority female mayor that now has a six figure tax payer funded “job”. We hear about Wanda Greed but don’t for one instant assume that she’s the only one.

      • Lou

        You guys really need to check your privilege. Greedy people come in every gender, every shade, every background. Just happens that the great majority of those holding real power are (white) men. But let’s put that aside shall we, that’s most convenient right?
        Seriously, get over yourselves…likely you’re mad that you couldn’t get there first.

        • Rich

          After this election, only one or two council members out of seven will be white men. Council hasn’t been majority white males for two years.

        • SpareChange

          Good Lord, Lou — You’ve posted 5 comments, and not one of them has addressed the substance of the article, or any of the fact based points and critiques made by other commenters. The most concrete thing you’ve said is that Ms. Williams is not white, male, or old (well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad).

          I’m sorry, but that’s just not enough to sway voters. How about addressing the fact-based points raised in the article, and the points raised by others who have commented? Give people some reasonable and substantive basis to vote for your candidate. I’m just not seeing it, but I am open to persuasion based upon solid information and argument. Absent that, I’m left convinced that she is mainly an opportunistic perennial candidate who has very little to offer the city or people of Asheville.

  4. Deplorable Infidel

    this is the kind of work that socialists thrive on , taxpayer funded crap, especially when getting nearly a third of the take!

    Socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

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