Oregon lawmaker’s office raises thousands of dollars, submits ‘unacceptable’ grant request
VALE – The executive had a deal for Greg Smith when she called last fall.
At no cost, his Pendleton company could take on the task of seeking millions of dollars for Malheur County.
The offer came shortly after Smith learned that his own job to secure that money had failed. The US Department of Transportation concluded that the request it submitted last May was “unacceptable.”
Money remains the key to turning farmland now held by taxpayers into an industrial park in Nyssa, adjacent to the planned Treasure Valley recharge center.
Susan Christensen and her team from Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corp. are well placed to help. They had years of experience in economic development and had just added an experienced grants writer to their staff.
Smith agreed to use the new aid.
“We just started serious work on the app,” Christensen said by email on Friday.
The free labor will contrast with the thousands that Malheur County taxpayers had paid Smith’s company for nearly two years to seek the same funds.
Smith did not respond to written questions about why the Malheur County Economic Development Department had not turned to the nonprofit Pendleton.
Instead, Gregory Smith & Company raised $ 138,000 from Malheur County over 22 months under a contract to primarily pursue what was known as the BUILD Grant.
Dan Joyce, a judge for Malheur County, said in an interview that he has been a member of the board of directors of Greater Eastern Oregon Development for 16 years.
But he said Smith, a state lawmaker from Heppner, had never alerted him or the Woe County court to the possibility of free service either.
“It was never discussed in the meetings,” he said.
When asked why the county hadn’t used the service before, Joyce replied, “That’s a really good question.”
Joyce explained that although he served on the board of directors of the development company, he was unaware that it provided local governments with free work to get grants.
The new role in Malheur County for the Pendleton Company was revealed after the company obtained county public records on the $ 15 million grant effort.
Under Smith’s leadership, the county’s demand made rushed sense. An investigation by Enterprise found it was not providing the crucial information federal officials were looking for to judge whether or not to hand over the $ 15 million. Large segments were copied from an earlier submission to the Crown that Smith’s company had already been paid to produce.
Records show that Smith’s team only assembled the crucial letters of support from the Oregon congressional delegation just days before the federal money request deadline last May.
And the county has also requested $ 5 million for utility works that cannot be funded by the federal grant. The county will have to look for this money elsewhere.
Smith hired outside help to make the request, retaining Pac / West, a lobbying and marketing firm in Portland.
But the $ 4,500 paid to the company last April was not intended to collect information for the app.
“We just provided creative support,” said Paul Phillips, president of Pac / West. He said his company did the “graphic design and layout” of the Malheur County bid.
Despite the shiny appearance, federal authorities did not include Malheur County on the list of winners announced in September. Smith held a conference call in November with federal officials to find out why.
Christensen said she contacted Smith with her offer after reading that the grant was turned down.
“I wanted to start the application process for the next BUILD grant,” she wrote in a Nov. 10 email to Smith.
In an interview, Christensen said she joined the Nov. 17 appeal with a U.S. Department of Transportation analyst to find out why the county’s request failed.
Smith initially did not provide county officials with any indication of the county’s weak demand.
“We have received invaluable feedback,” Smith wrote hours after the conference call in an email to county commissioners. “Their presentation was prefaced by affirming the incredible competitiveness of this cycle. “
Despite the importance of that conference call, Smith claimed neither he nor anyone in his county office had any notes on it.
Christensen recalled that the federal official had made it clear that the county’s request should be more “focused on the goal of federal money.”
This was recorded in the conference call notes of Brad Baird, president of Anderson Perry & Associates. His company provides engineering services for the Nyssa project.
“Unacceptable is our category,” Baird wrote. “You need to focus more on clear, direct and meaningful benefits. “
Chirstensen’s own notes on the appeal, which she provided to The Company, also noted that the county’s request was “deemed unacceptable” because it was not specific enough. His notes showed that the request was “not clear, direct, meaningful” on the merits of the industrial park.
Christensen said she and Smith have since discussed the conference call to strike a deal for the work in Woe County. She said Greater Eastern Oregon Development provides grant services to seven counties and 39 towns in the region.
In addition to grant work, Greater Eastern Oregon Development operates several loan programs, including funding projects in Malheur County in recent years.