SCHENECTADY — Councilman John Polimeni on Monday again criticized the City Council’s process of distributing millions in American Rescue Plan Act funds, accusing his fellow lawmakers of leveraging the funds for “personal gain” rather than making critical investments that would benefit the city for years to come.
The accusation came during a vote to approve the use of $11.3 million in ARPA money to fund 23 projects throughout the city, including $3.5 million for park upgrades, and money for various nonprofit organizations to address issues that range from homelessness to youth programming.
“Once again ARPA funds are being used as pork barrel for the personal gain of council members,” Polimeni said. “They just repeat their key words like ‘listening to the community’ and ‘transparency’ — meaningless words coming out of their mouth meant to be a smokescreen and a diversion to what they’re doing.”
Lawmakers ultimately approved the spending plan in a 5-1 vote, leaving the city with around $10 million in ARPA funds still left to allocate. Polimeni was the lone dissenting vote, while Councilman Damonni Farley was not in attendance.
Polimeni has repeatedly criticized how the council has gone about allocating the $52.9 million in ARPA funding the city was awarded last year to aid in pandemic recovery efforts, at one point calling the process one of the most screwed up things he’s ever been a part of.
He leveled similar accusations last month, when lawmakers approved $14.6 million in ARPA funds to pay for 11 projects without first publicly reviewing the dozens of applications the city collected last year from organizations seeking a portion of the funds.
Polimeni again criticized the process on Monday, accusing some lawmakers of reaching out to organization leaders to assure them their groups would receive funding prior to any discussions taking place.
He also said lawmakers have refused to discuss ways to leverage the ARPA funds with other revenue sources like grants in order to expand the impact the money could have on the city.
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“Despite calls to look at the overall big picture, they have ignored that and have refused to look at how to best leverage those funds with grants and bonding,” Polimeni said. “They were too busy drooling at the thought of giving away money that could have been used much wiser.”
Some lawmakers pushed back on Polimeni’s remarks, saying that while the ARPA process has been far from smooth, the council has worked to address the needs of the community and has been transparent in its decision making.
Councilman Carl Williams pushed back on what he called the “negative rhetoric,” saying it districts from the fact that the council still has millions in ARPA funds left to allocate. He add that the city should collect applications from organizations seeking money to ensure anyone group seeking funds has an opportunity to be heard.
“I think it is important for us all that we understand that we need to find a way that is best to apply this money and funds,” said Councilman Carl Williams. “I think continuing to spew negative rhetoric does no one any good and I think only distracts individuals from the fact that there’s still money in the pot.”
But Polimeni has not been alone in his criticisms.
Last month, several community leaders questioned how the council decided to allocate millions in ARPA funds and raised concerns about a lack of transparency surrounding the process, which has dragged on for months but has suddenly accelerated in recent weeks.
But council members have failed to publicly discuss the dozens of applications as a whole, instead opting to make individual recommendations with little discussion about the substance of the projects receiving funding.
And recommendations by a citizen advisory committee appointed earlier this year to review the applications have also not been discussed publicly, leading some to question whether the recommendations have even been taken into consideration. The committee was formed at the request of community members who asked for a say in how the funds are spent during a series of stakeholder meetings last year.
Council President Marion Porterfield, meanwhile, said the council has used the ARPA funds to make critical investments throughout the city, including public parks and nonprofits that will help address longstanding issues within the city.
She said that while some members may disagree on the process, they should work together to do what is best for the city.
As a city [council], we may not agree on everything, however, we should agree on the common thought of continuing to improve our city,” she said. “And to the naysayers and the criticizers, if we need to fight, let’s fight for each other, and if we want to shout, let love be the cry.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.