You be the judge. A little known program called the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 provides funding for at-risk youth and eligible adults and dislocated workers to get training/education to become re-employed. The program was created by former President Clinton and was the first major change to job training programs in more than 15 years.
Each state received funds through the Governor's Office and then down to the local areas of the state. In Georgia, 20 Workforce Areas were designated each requiring a local board to govern the activities associated with the funds. Gainesville is part of Area 2 and since 2000, the Georgia Department of Labor has served as the fiscal agent and program operator. In June of this year, the new Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, decided to jettison this program from his watch.
This wasn't necessarily a bad move on his part but the ramifications to the individual customer who is currently receiving services aren't great. Surely someone has to be the winner in this...right? Of course but it's not the customer using the services!
In addition to the local board, the area also must work with the county commission chairpersons from the 13 county area. It is their responsibility to select the new fiscal agent and program operator. After a lengthy search, 4 legal entities were found. These 4 entities presented to the county commission chairpersons in a meeting held at Babyland General in Cleveland, August 5th. At the end of the presentations, the Habersham County Commission Chairperson made a motion to accept the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission as the next fiscal agent and program operator. The motion was seconded and carried by unanimous voice vote.
That doesn't sound so bad. Oh but wait! With a budget of $5,000,000 dollars annually, the fiscal agent stands to "earn" a significant portion of money to offset its expenses. One entity was willing to handle the program for a measley 7%. Another program was willing to handle the program based on direct charges or actual costs. The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission couldn't say how much it was going to charge this taxpayer funded grant. If you were a county commissioner, wouldn't you want to know how much it was going to cost? You should!!!
Oh but the political mess gets messier. The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is a quasi-state government entity. The regional commissions were set-up in the 60s to help smaller communities have access to economic developers, planning and IT services. The commissions are funded by a per capita charge levied to each county it serves. A few years back, the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission Executive Director, Danny Lewis, threatened to sue Tom Oliver and Hall County because it was refusing to pay the $1.10 per capita fee assessed by the GMRC.
Remember a bit ago, I told you that the county commission chairpersons made the recommendation to use the GMRC as the next fiscal agent? Would it surprise you to know that the county commission chairpersons also sit on the board of directors for the GMRC? So in a sense, they voted to give themselves access to $5,000,000 in federal funds. Was this a way for Mike Berg to pay-back the GMRC? Or maybe even pay-forward?
So why is this important for you as a taxpayer? Because the liability for this program, should the new program operators violate the law or misuse money, falls back to the county commissions. And who funds the county commissions? We do!
Call Mike Berg and ask why he chose to take taxpayer dollars and fund an entity that he is intimately related. Ask him how much it is going to cost to have the GMRC operate the program. I would bet he won't be able to tell you. Then ask him how he is ensuring that each customer of this program is going to continue receiving services. I'm sure silence is what you will hear on the other end.
I don't care about party lines. I care about the people who are training to learn a new skill and become re-employed. I served for many years on the Workforce Investment Board and worked diligently to make sure that funds were given to the taxpayers who so desperately needed help. This is sad, embarrasing and inexcusable.
If you want more details, contact Mike Berg as he will have the meeting minutes and was intimately involved in this process. Unfortunately, it wasn't just limited to our Dawson County leader; it was throughout our 13 county area. Sad but true. Government needs to clean house.
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