Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22, 2011 How Did Morristown College Grant Money End Up With the Millennium Group?

Just how did $1.2 Million in federal grant dollars get moved from needed work at and around Morristown College to the downtown Millennium Partners retail shell space/rooftop parking project?  [This is a follow-up from yesterday's post on conflicts of interest in the Millennium grant process.]

In 2005-2006, federal grant funds of $1,200,000 were received and were to be matched with local funds in a public-private partnership at Morristown College. The goal was preservation of the many historic buildings on the College property along with construction of a Community Center and pools, etc.

Ironically, Todd Morgan, who has been pushing the Millennium project, nominated Morristown College for inclusion in East Tennessee's Endangered Heritage just weeks before Morgan put a plan before the City Council to move the Morristown College grant funds to benefit the Millennium group.

Click here for a post on Morgan's nomination of Morristown College for inclusion on a list of endangered historic buildings and here for a picture of the Laura Yard Hill Administration Building and the full News-Sentinel story.

When the public-private partnership fell through, Mayor Barile signed a contract with TDOT in 2007 changing the scope of the Morristown College grant to construction of a greenway connector trail into the Morristown College site and a trailhead at the Fred Kyle Park with parking spaces.

The new scope also included a perimeter walking path around the College site and 2-1/2 miles of sidewalks with street lights and curbs on parts of Branner Street, Blair Street, Buffalo Trail, Carriger Street, Panorama Drive, E. 6th North, James Street/Daisy Street, Terrace View, and Morristown Cemetery Trail. Drainage problems would also be addressed.

The purpose of revising the plans for Morristown College, as stated by Mayor Barile in her letter to TDOT in 2007, was: "[T]o increase the safety and well-being of the people that live in this area."

After signing the 2007 contract with TDOT,  the City sat on the grant and did nothing. Why? The City was broke and couldn't come up with the local match to access the $1,200,000 of federal funds. Former City Administrator Jim Crumley was hiding a financial mess, and the Mayor and Council either didn't know why the grant work was not starting or did know but were concerned that it all reflected badly on the City, Mayor, and Council.  The Morristown College site continued to deteriorate. 

Mayor Barile, who signed the 2007 grant contract for Morristown College and spoke of the health and safety of area residents, didn't have a clue. According to the Mayor, she didn't know until early 2010 that the City was broke. Click here for the day the Mayor and Council woke up to the financial nightmare that she and the Council have presided over.

Instead of taking care of the city's finances and using the grant funds for the preservation and improvement of the Morristown College site, Mayor Barile and Council spent time and money stamping brick designs on roadways, placing islands in the middle of East First North (that have now been removed), and wailing about "light pollution." 

Morristown College was slowly falling apart. And the City's answer to the deterioration was to take the $1,200,000 of federal grant money that could have been used to preserve and improve the Morristown College site and transfer all that money to the downtown Millennium Square Partnership group, composed of local businessmen and the City's auditors.

Some of the most beautiful buildings at Morristown College have now burned. The historic area continues to deteriorate.  Residents of the area have asked for help as property values decrease and concerns for safety increase. They may get the City to mow the area and do some clean-up.

But the money that was available for the Morristown College area from as far back as 2005 was transferred to downtown businessmen (Millennium Partners) for a project where the City ends up with a 25-year lease for 22 rooftop parking spaces, a bike rack, a stairway, and a sign designating the rooftop parking as a greenways "trailhead."

$1,200,000 for safety, historical preservation, parking, sidewalks, lights, and curbs, OR 22 rooftop parking spaces? The City chose 22 rooftop parking spaces.

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