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Jonesboro, grant writers at odds

The head of a grant-writing group hired earlier this year by the City of Jonesboro admitted there were communications issues between his group and city officials. But he told the town’s City Council on Monday that the issues go both ways.

Last month, city leaders accused Georgia Grant Writers of being unresponsive to inquiries about the status of grant applications for the town. Terry Lawler, the principal grant writer for the group, appeared before city councilmembers this week to present his organization’s side of the story.

He explained that the city had missed out on a Georgia Department of Natural Resources POGO trails grant, because of the communications issues between city officials and Georgia Grant Writers. But, he painted a picture of a problematic relationship, in which the city would have to shoulder some of the responsibility, because town officials did not provide him with documentation he requested.

“I sent requests to the city, and I think what we’ve got here is, maybe, some breakdown of communication about what the levels of responsibilities are, or what has to be done,” Lawler said. “We’re on a contingency contract. We’ve probably spent 20 hours, or more, on this grant and the application without anything, unfortunately, being done with it.

“In the document we sent to you all,” he told city leaders, “you saw where we put down what the [grant review] score was the city got last year, and our recommendations for what the city needed to do, to score higher this year to potentially get a grant. We haven’t heard back from the city.”

Mayor Luther Maddox said he will be scheduling a meeting with Lawler, to take place sometime this week, to discuss the communications issues, and to try to reach a solution to those problems. The mayor added that the city council will be taking the issue up again next Monday, to make a decision about Jonesboro’s future with Georgia Grant Writers.

Lawler said the POGO trails grant would have secured money for walking trail renovations that would have connected the heart of the city with Stately Oaks Plantation, and Battleground Park, on Lake Jodeco Road.

He said the documents he asked city officials to secure were letters of support for the grant, from officials with Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

He explained that the requests to those entities, for those letters of support, would have been taken more seriously if they came from Jonesboro officials, rather than from the Georgia Grant Writers group.

“We’ve asked the city to do this because we can’t call up there as a grant writer and request Clayton County give us a document,” Lawler told the city council. “They need to hear it from you all.”

Lawler said the issues are hurting the city’s chances of being successful in winning grants, which he explained can be very competitive, requiring each city to put its best foot forward. “We both [the city and Georgia Grant Writers] are frustrated because Jonesboro has some opportunities here, and we’re just missing them because of a breakdown,” he said.

But, Jonesboro City Clerk Janice Truhan confronted Lawler at the meeting about his assertions concerning the city’s alleged lack of a response to requests for letters of support, claiming that she did get back in touch with him about the requests. She re-iterated the city’s stance that she does not get responses from Georgia Grant Writers’ officials, to the e-mails she sends to them.

“Mr. Lawler, I’m not challenging you on what you’re saying, but I e-mailed you regarding that list, and told you the documents were already supplied,” Truhan said. “And, I’ve e-mailed you on a number of occasions, and I have proof of every one of them. So, unfortunately, I’m not agreeing with what you’re saying here. I have been responsive. I don’t get responses from you all.”

Lawler said, after the meeting, that the information that Truhan said was provided to Georgia Grant Writers was from last year’s grant application, and therefore, did not fulfill the requirement for the information he needed. Maddox told Lawler, Monday night, that the city could not write to community and county officials, seeking letters of support, because of staffing issues. The mayor explained that was why Georgia Grant Writers was hired.

“The reason we hired you is because we didn’t have the staff to do all this letter writing, and what have you,” Maddox said. “And, that’s why we were wanting a grant writer. If we’d had a grant writer, in house, to do all of this, we wouldn’t have had to go out anywhere.”

City Councilmember Pat Sebo said that, in light of Lawler’s presentation on Monday, the city council should sit down with both sides and try to figure out the root issue that is causing the communications problems. She added that she would like councilmembers to be present when Maddox and Lawler meet this week.

“We’re going to need to sit in on these meetings, some of us, and get all of the facts because, apparently there are two sides to this issue,” Sebo said.