I have a confession to make. I’ve been in bed now dwelling on this. In fact, I’ve been stewing over it all night since it happened, not so much because of the implications of doing it, but because of the implications of not doing it.
So I have a confession to make. I was too timid in City Council tonight to speak up when a wrong was being committed and because I did not speak up, a bad decision was made.
Tonight we approved about $470,000.00 to a local private organization for housing development pursuant to a federal program — a community housing development organization (CHODO).
The legislation had been written to give the organization about $46,000.00 and yesterday we learned it was actually for $470,000.00.
Well, remember that federal investigation into the City of Macon for its faith based program?
Tonight we went behind closed doors and it came out that this organization was listed in the investigation. At least seven members of Council had serious reservations about moving forward without further information, but two members of Council had to abstain from participation because, by virtue of their offfices, they are now on the board of this organization.
The odds are that this organization did nothing wrong. We already know, it seems, that a lot of the organizations did nothing wrong — it was the city that was at fault. But there remains a question and we had before us legislation to give this organization $470,000.00. And the organization will go on to pocket six figures in fees from the project if I read the contract right.
The mayor has a meeting with the U.S. Attorney coming up. He could have checked into the situation and we could have reconsidered this matter in two weeks without there being any adverse effects.
On the Council floor we danced around the fact that this organization was named in the federal investigation. We kept talking about “serious legal matters.” No one dared discuss what we talked about behind closed doors. Several members of Council, as a result, were able to question the motives of others and hurl invective without those of us with concerns pointing out the serious nature of what we are dealing with.
I should have told the public this information. I am absolutely convinced as I’ve stewed over this tonight that one or more members who voted to go on and give this money knowing it was named in the investigation would never have done so had I spoken up.
What they could do with no shame through unknown facts, they could not have done if the facts were known.
Information revealed in closed sessions should not be revealed for very good reasons. But tonight, I don’t think there really any good reasons remained. The councilman who raised the concerns was well meaning and did so behind closed doors, only to be insulted. We made a decision having all the facts that we most likely would not have made had all the facts also been known by the public.
I should not have been so timid. I voted against the legislation in committee and on the floor. But I did not speak up.
Hopefully the mayor will not sign the legislation until he has talked to the U.S. Attorney and made sure this organization is not actually under suspicion.
Again, I think the organization probably has done nothing wrong. But City Council should not have acted without doing due diligence. The measure passed by two votes.