2007-08-24 / Community

PAL Seeks To Pull Out As Weed & Seed's Fiscal Agent

Asks Permission From D.C. To Transition To RDRC
By Miriam Rosenberg

Far Rockaway's Weed and Seed site has been struggling with the fact that it could lose its entire grant for this year - $200,000 - if the Police Athletic League resigns from the position of fiscal agent, as they have said they would do this past April.

In a Weed and Seed steering committee memo obtained by The Wave, Ed Williams - the committee's cochairman - laid out the problem for committee members if the PAL, which oversees the site's finances, pulls out.

"PAL has been undergoing many internal changes," said Williams in the July 23 memo. "The executive director, John Ryan….and a new executive director, Felix Urrutia, was hired in October 2006."

According to Williams, site representatives met with Urrutia in February 2007. At that time, Urrutia said he would review his agency's interest in continuing in the position of fiscal agent. On April 2, the PAL announced they would sever their relationship as fiscal agent with the Far Rockaway organization.

Yet, when he spoke with The Wave on Wednesday evening, Urrutia gave a different version of the events at the February meeting.

"From day one, we said that PAL does not want to serve as a fiscal agent," said Urrutia, who added that site representatives would not take "no" for an answer.

When site coordinator Denean Ferguson advised him it would cause problems if they pulled out, Urrutia agreed to stay until June.

"We met in April, and she asked us to hold until September," Urrutia explained. "We agreed, even though we didn't want to. On two occasions, we told both Ed Williams and Denean Ferguson we didn't want to remain and they convinced us to. It was not until August we were told they would lose the grant."

Urrutia also believes, that from its history, the Far Rockaway Weed and Seed site is a problem one, having had at least three fiscal agents in the last few years.

The NYPD was the original fiscal agent. When their contract ran out in 2005, the Queens Library took over. They resigned from the position in 2006.

Urrutia did point out that since he came on as executive director last October, the vision for PAL had changed.

"We no longer serve as fiscal conduits," he said. "We're not comfortable in this day and age doing it."

Although the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation's executive director Kevin Alexander has expressed interest in the organization taking over the role as fiscal agent, Joyce Bradford of the Department of Justice's Community Capacity Development Office (which runs the program) in Washington, D.C. has said a change in fiscal agents is not possible.

According to Williams, Bradford - who is the program manager for Weed and Seed - told them they could not change fiscal agents every year.

Kim Fuller, a legislative assistant for Congressman Gregory Meeks, spoke with The Wave on Monday. She said that Meeks is extremely concerned about the situation and has reached out to the PAL's executive director.

"[Mr. Urrutia] said they do not want to continue into the next funding cycle because they lose money," said Fuller.

Urrutia said it costs more than the $3,000 fee they are paid to do the job. He asked Meeks to help them get funding for a year to monitor the site, but got no response to the request.

"The PAL is not interested in hurting the Far Rockaway peninsula in any way," said Urrutia. "We will not make any decision that will result in the loss of funding for the Far Rockaway community."

Urrutia believes it would be better for a local organization to act as the fiscal agent for the Far Rockaway site. He is hoping that, through the Queens district attorney's office, they can get Washington to change its mind.

"We are trying to ask the U.S. Attorney to allow another fiscal conduit change," Urrutia said. "We would happily transition over to RDRC if the U.S. Attorney would grant the switch. If not, PAL will stay, even though we do not want to. We don't want to be the reason they lost $200,000."

In his memo, Williams pointed out the urgency to resolve the matter.

"The site has only one possible year of funding remaining, and in a neighborhood like Far Rockaway, we need as much funding and programs as we can garner to stem the tide of crime in our community," said Williams.

Weed and Seed is a strategy that brings law enforcement and local residents together to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in communities across the country.

Some of those who have been aided by the Rockaway program are the 101 Precinct's Explorer program for young people, the Far Rockaway and Arverne Libraries, DEFY (Drug Education for Youth) - the nationwide program the 101 Precinct participates in - and the Police Athletic League.

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