A committee created to advise City Council on how to spend portions of the $74.3 million National Disaster Resilience Competition award is off to a less-than-transparent start. The Minot Affordable Housing Advisory Committee met for the first time on February 15, and according to minutes, the committee is made up of members of CDM Smith (the City’s NDRC Consultant), City staff, the Minot Housing Authority, and other members of the public.
By mission and make-up, the Committee would appear to be subject to open meeting laws and that require notification of a meeting and publication of minutes. However, per a review of the City’s online calendar and agenda information, no public notice appears to have taken place. Meeting minutes were provided this morning upon request, but as of last week, the City’s Public Information Officer, Derek Hackett, was not aware of the committee.
An email last Friday asking into the existence of the committee brought the following response from Mr. Hackett:
Nothing formal has been formed.
There is an actionable item on Monday’s agenda regarding the NDR Program and a potential Affordable Housing Project. My understanding is, since the study is still new, Rob Davis will explain the program’s needs and processes then. I’m drafting a public outreach campaign to encompass this information as well. The NDR Program seems like it’s nearly ready to get legs and start moving. More details will become available when we finalize further studies.
Derek Hackett, City of Minot, Public Information Officer
But upon additional questioning, it was determined that a committee had indeed been formed, had met in February, and consisted of members of City staff and CDM Smith. However, in a follow-up email Saturday morning, Cindy Hemphill, the City’s former finance director who’s now providing transition services to the City in the interim period while her position is filled further clarified the makeup of the Committee to include both City staff and the general public (in addition to CDM Smith). Read the full email conversation here.
Members of City Council were also in the dark regarding the Committee. Aldermen Sipma and Straight both confirmed they were unaware of the Committee and expressed intent to question the issue at tonight’s full City Council meeting. An item for a low-income housing investment that includes NDRC funding is on tonight’s agenda; according to the minutes, the advisory committee did not discuss and took no action on this item.
Furthermore, one member of the Committee itself has concerns over how the process is being executed. Doug Pfau is President of the Minot Apartment Association and was invited to join the Committee; he attended the February meeting. When reached for comment, he shared the following.
I’m concerned that there’s a perception that this program will benefit a select few. That’s what I personally do not what I want to see. And the way to counter that is through public input, transparancy and full discoslure of every part of this through the full process as it evolves.
Doug Pfau, President, Minot Apartment Association and Committee Member
CDM Smith has a long history working with the City. Last June 6th, City Council approved a not-to-exceed $19.3 million dollar contract for their work related to administering the City’s NDRC activities (#14). More recently, this past December, they were approved for an additional $1.87 million related to the City’s ongoing CDBG recovery grants (#2). Most recently, they completed work on a low-income housing study for the Minot are which can be viewed here.
Minot’s City Manager Tom Barry previously expressed a need for the City to take more in-house control of the NDRC Program. The City of Minot is currently looking to hire an in-house NDRC Program Manager.
A request has been filed to determine the amount CDM Smith has billed the City with regards to work surrounding the Committee, a role which the City staff are trained to provide.