The Unified Government Commission tonight changed its casino grant process, after hearing from several organizations against the change.
Every year, the UG receives a half-million dollars from the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway to spend on charitable grants.
The vote was 8-1 to change the process to a more direct one where commissioners will be making hands-on decisions about where the funds are spent. Previously, a selection committee recommended the grants that were distributed, then they were voted on by the commission.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook voted no on the change, and Mayor Mark Holland also was opposed to it.
Among those who spoke against making the changes were Heidi Holliday, executive director of the Rosedale Development Association; Katherine Kelly, executive director of Cultivate KC; and Gil Pintar, a homes association leader and a former UG planner.
Holliday read a letter against the change signed by several nonprofit agencies in the county.
“We believe that an independent review committee maintains a high-needed level of ethics and transparency in the process,” she said.
The group recommended using the selection committee this year while working on changes for 2016. Some of the agencies who were listed as signers of the letter, including some former grant recipients, included Bethel Neighborhood Center, Bike Walk KC, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Cross-Lines Community Outreach, Cultivate KC, El Centro Inc., FreeWheels for Kids, Kansas City Healthy Kids, Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, KCK Farmers Market, Kansas City Community Gardens, Rosedale Development Association, Revolve KCK, Shepherd’s Center of KCK and the 8th Street YMCA.
Kelly called the current process a “progressive forward-thinking high-impact approach” to addressing the health needs of the county.
She said she was concerned that in addressing what seems to be unequal funding levels across the county, it might diminish a county-wide approach. She said health issues are not equal across the area and some areas are more challenged.
She asked for a fuller engagement of stakeholders in discussions with a decision in 2016. This was the first public hearing on the changes.
Pintar was concerned that leveraging additional funds was part of the criteria, and said some of the smaller groups may have a great project and not be able to do that. He said it seems like there has been a revision of the casino grant rules every year, and that a good look needs to be taken at the revisions so that there is transparency for everyone throughout the county.
Teresa Clardy said she was concerned that there wasn’t opportunity for public comment previously, and was concerned that there would be opportunity to allow the entire community to offer comments. She also favored the third-party selection process.
Ben Alexander, of FreeWheels for Kids, said he was impressed with how transparent the process was compared with other grant funding opportunities and urged the commission not to change it.
Commissioner Philbrook talked about a county-wide approach, and said some of the individual agencies work with people throughout the community although they are located in one area. She said she liked the idea of the third-party selection committee.
Commissioner Jim Walters, from southwest Wyandotte County, said the application process would be the same and vetting by Greater Kansas City Community Foundation would be the same, The difference is the selection committee would be replaced by the commissioners. He said it was more accountable since the commissioners have to stand for election. He said when the committee made recommendations, there was no discussion of the area the program served. Commissioners will not have to keep the $45,000 they allocate within their districts.
“This is not a drastic modification but it is an attempt to try to tackle this problem on a true county-wide basis rather than without consideration for location,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Kane, representing northwest Wyandotte County, said he wants the county fairgrounds and the Piper school district to get some of the money. There were not any grants to the 5th District in the past, he said.
“We want a healthy community across all four corners, District 5 pays a boatload of taxes. They’re entitled to just as much money as any other district,” Commissioner Kane said.
Commissioner Hal Walker said, “Out of the blue, this has been stirred up, and I’m disappointed about the way that this was stirred up.”
He said he had some calls today about it.
He decided to support the changes because some of the smaller nonprofits did not apply last year because they were not likely to get a small grant. He said he didn’t intend to give money where it would be eaten up by administrative costs. He was troubled by the idea that only six or seven groups would get most of the funds, and a big portion would go to the people who administer it.
Commissioner Walker said the public would have more involvement in this process than the past one.
The program awarded 13 grants in its first year and 17 grants in its second year, according to UG Deputy Administrator Joe Connor.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend said she would vote for it, but would be evaluating it. Part of the flaw of the program was that if organizations did not apply, they could not be considered for grants, she said.
Commissioner Ann Murguia said she received a number of phone calls about the issue from community groups. She said she was angry, hurt and frustrated that a representative of the mayor’s office attended a Livable Neighborhoods meeting this morning and made remarks.
Later, the mayor said he had been unaware that anyone from his office attended the meeting and made remarks. He said he had reservations about the changes earlier, preferring the third-party selection committee. He did not support making remarks about it to Livable Neighborhoods.
Commissioner Murguia paraphrased President Obama’s remarks in the State of the Union address, where he called for people to work together regardless of their different parties or interests.
“Will you allow this old-school politics and tired thinking to drive every decision in this county?” Commissioner Murguia asked. “A better politics is where we debate without demonizing each other.”
Commissioner Tarence Maddox said in the northeast community, for two years straight, no 501 (c) (3) agency had received grant money from the casino grant program. Also, he said there had been other grants from other programs in the past that had been written up for the northeast area but never reached it.
Applications are expected to be available Feb. 9, with the application deadline March 27. The commission may vote on the grants on May 21, under the proposed schedule.
The commission also voted to approve some other items tonight, without discussing them at this meeting. They included:
– An addition to the budget to buy a new scoreboard for the CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where the T-Bones play. The estimated cost of the electronic scoreboard is between $400,000 and $450,000. The budget would have to be increased by $250,000 for the new scoreboard.
– 18 new defibrillators would be purchased by the Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department. A lease-purchase agreement would require almost a half-million dollars, according to the agenda documents.
– Approval of Section 42 housing tax credits for the $6.9 million Armstrong Estates Family House Development, including 40 new duplex units near 7401 Armstrong Ave. They are low-income housing tax credits.
– Approval of Section 42 housing tax credits for the $10.8 million West Village 55-plus senior independent residences housing development near 735 N. 89th St. Builders Development Corp. is the developer. They are low-income housing tax credits.
To see some earlier stories on this casino grant funding, visit