It’s ironic that Marion Porterfield, coordinator of Schenectady’s Weed and Seed, would try to save her position, which has been zeroed out of the city’s Community Development Block Grant budget, by urging council members to take money from code enforcement. That’s because the city’s code enforcement effort is designed in large part to improve housing conditions for the residents of Hamilton Hill and Vale, the impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods that are the focus of Weed and Seed. Both programs haven’t lived up to expectations, and responsibility must fall on their leaders, Porterfield and code enforcement director Keith Lamp.
In 2004, after years of meetings and other preparatory work by government and neighborhood representatives, Schenectady won federal designation as a Weed and Seed community in a highly competitive process. The designation meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in Department of Justice grants to weed out the negative elements — through community policing, drugs sweeps, interagency operations, etc. — and replace them with positive things like youth activities, employment and housing initiatives.
Porterfield seems like a nice woman who lacks dynamism, organization and creativity in a job that calls for it. She sees her role as promoting collaboration, and she does regularly attend meetings of various community groups, agencies and organizations.
But her role should be more than that, including raising Weed and Seed's program’s profile and garnering support all over the city, as well as coming up with innovative programs and additional grant money. In these areas she hasn’t done much, with perhaps her biggest accomplishment a free tax preparation service for neighborhood residents provided by trained volunteers. And for years she failed to file complete and timely reports with the federal government, which appears to have ultimately cost the city the last year of Weed and Seed funding.
Now she wants the city to continue paying her $60,000 salary although there is no grant money for programs. To help her cause she came to Monday’s council meeting with a contingent of Hamilton Hill residents who claimed the city doesn’t care about and is doing nothing for their neighborhood — apparently not knowing, or conveniently forgetting, about the parks, pools, recreational activities, green housing initiatives, security cameras, etc.
Weed and Seed is too important to give up on — the idea of the program was that the strategies and relationships established to win the federal grants would be valuable even after they ended. And Porterfield apparently still has neighborhood support, not just from selected residents but from respected agencies like SICM.
The city should tell her that it will consider paying her salary after the end of the year, but only if she really she steps it up between now and then. And it should start looking for another possible coordinator now in case she can’t.