After Returned Stimulus Funds Fiasco, Oakland Seeks Another $900,000

WIB Chair Bryan Parker addresses
Oakland Council committee, Mar. 12.

OAKLAND | Before the beleaguered Oakland Workforce Investment Board moves on to a new bid for over $900,000 in state grants to aid the city’s unemployed, it faced the fire Tuesday over a fiasco held over from a past administration that lead to the return of over $600,000 in federal stimulus dollars.

During an Oakland Community and Economic Development Committee meeting, council members and the public lambasted the city agency for a lack of accountability following the revelation last month the $745,000 stimulus grant to facilitate on the job training was ill-suited for a jobs plan envisioned by former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. The difference: Dellums plan had no expectation of employment afterwards which the federal grant explicitly demanded.

Gretchen White of the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club called for greater transparency into the actions that led to the embarrassing refund of badly needed stimulus funds set aside to benefit the unemployed. “We’re not looking for a witch hunt,” she said. “And we don’t need names named.”

Those in Dellums’s administration who reportedly misapplied for the grant no longer work for the city, said Council President Pat Kernighan, who criticized the agency for its long-term inefficiency. However, she noted the dirty laundry being aired Tuesday afternoon germinated long ago and improvements at the WIB have been realized.

“It is not a very impressive history,” said Kernighan of WIB’s on-going trouble going back a decade. “It’s not a problem of recent origins.” Navigating WIB’s tedious and complicated grant process is also difficult, she said. “It’s a hard bucket of money to use.”

The city first became aware of problems with the stimulus grant in the summer of 2011, says John Bailey, the executive director of WIB since the beginning of that year. The grant was received in July 2010 and later approved by the City Council six months later followed by months of consternation. “Our lessons learned list is long,” said Bailey.

The current WIB chair, Bryan Parker, admitted mistakes were made, but denies accountability has been skirted, noting those associated with the grant are gone and improvements to the agency’s efficiency has greatly improved in the subsequent two years since the initial grant was approved.

One new wrinkle for WIB includes utilizing the expertise of the state Employment Development Department (EDD) when procuring grants. Bailey says the WIB is currently drafting a $900,000 state grant to fund on-the-job training for adults out of work more than six months—the same as the returned stimulus funds. Bailey hopes to enlist the help of the EDD later this month to better frame the request in advance of officially applying for the grant.