Fitchburg Alder and Community Economic Development Authority (CEDA) Chair Julia Arata-Fratta denied any collusion with Madison Region Economic Partnership’s (MadREP) application for CEDA grant funding, even though she serves on the organization’s board of directors. She says she will, however, recuse herself from a vote on the application.
MadREP, an organization that seeks to help with job creation and other economic initiatives, is one of four organizations that have applied for funding from the $50,000 allocated in the 2017 municipal budget for CEDA to distribute to nonprofits.
Arata-Fratta, one of 26 MadREP board of directors members, says was unaware that MadREP was even submitting a proposal until she saw their presentation on the agenda for the October 26 CEDA meeting.
Arata-Fratta did not recuse herself from that meeting and in fact asked several questions of the MadREP representatives. There was no debate or vote at that meeting, however.
Last week at a press conference in Fitchburg, Mayor Jason Gonzalez told Madison365 that there were not conflicts of interest involving any Alders and that he would make sure the Council operated with transparency and integrity throughout the process of granting money to nonprofits through a competitive grant process.
“We submitted a proposal for Inspire Madison Region, which enables students to connect with businesses in this region,” said Paul Jaden, President of MadRep. “Fitchburg has very few businesses signed on so when we saw the announcement from Fitchburg about competitive grants we submitted a request. I had no idea that Julia was chairing this committee. She didn’t know we were submitting a request.”
MadREP is asking for $12,500, according to application documents.
Jaden said that high school students and some college students from all school districts in the region participate in this program. If Inspire Madison Region is able to receive funding from Fitchburg it will be used to pay for a consultant who will go out and meet with companies in Fitchburg between September and December of next year to try to partner with them to train high school students.
“It’s an exceptional program,” Jaden said. “Five hundred fifty coaches and 495 companies in eight different counties partner with us. We’re in all 63 school districts with this as well. When we looked at areas where we don’t have a lot of partners, we saw Fitchburg as one of those areas.”
Jaden says he’s aware of backlash that Arata-Fratta is getting from some in the community who have accused her of acting improperly. In particular, Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson has accused Arata-Frata of attempting to steer city funds away from his organization to organizations she has ties with.
Arata-Fratta introduced an amendment to the 2017 budget to defund the city’s longstanding $50,000 annual service agreement with BGC and instead allocate all nonprofit funds through CEDA. That amendment ultimately failed after vocal opposition from Johnson and his supporters, and BGC received $50,000 to provide services at its Allied Drive location this year. The 2018 budget, however, eliminates that $50,000 and increases the CEDA fund to $100,000, which has sparked a new round of acrimonious debate that culminated in Mayor Jason Gonzalez expelling several citizens from a Common Council meeting and later apologizing.
Jaden said when he first learned of Arata-Fratta’s potential conflict of interest, his first impulse was to pull the proposal to avoid putting her in an awkward position.
“I said I’m not going to put Julia in an awkward position,” Jaden said. “I offered to withdraw the application if it would put her in a bad position. She insisted that we stay in and she will recuse herself. That means she can’t participate in the debate or vote on whether we get funding.”
Julia Arata-Fratta’s frustration at being the continued target of accusations was palpable when she spoke to Madison365 late on Tuesday evening.
“I know my duties. I am appalled at what I am hearing, that I tried to protect funds or fund organizations to which I had ties,” Arata-Fratta said. “I didn’t even know (MadREP) were putting forth the proposal until I saw it in the agenda. I will recuse myself. I tried to explain this to several people and they haven’t listened.”
Arata-Fratta points out that the grant process for 2017 isn’t even complete yet. Applications are due December 6 and CEDA will make funding recommendations at its December 14 meeting. The Common Council will then vote to approve those recommendations.
“We haven’t even received all the applications yet,” Arata-Frata said. So people who are accusing me of this it is unfounded and wrong. And not just with MadRep. There is talk that I am involved in all the Latino organizations that have applied. Like just because they are Latino organizations and I am Latino I have a conflict of interest? That makes no sense.”
Other organizations that have applied for funding include Latino Academy of Workforce Development, Building Bosses and 1800 Days. CEDA has received letters of interest from Oregon Youth Center, Badger Prairie Needs Network, Wisconsin Institute for Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia Inc., Breaking Barriers Mentoring and the Latino Chamber of Commerce, where Arata-Fratta once served as president.