CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners cut funding to nonprofit agencies and tabled funding for one group when members approved the 2011 county budget during a marathon meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners voted to approve the county's 2011 general fund budget at $52.88 million, but not before they separated $2.74 million funding for outside and nonprofit agencies and decided upon each one line by line.
That resulted in a savings of $98,200 in funding cuts. Part of the savings included $35,000 earmarked for the nonprofit Ceek to Fulfill, which had its funding tabled.
The moves came about following allegations of improper operations by Ceek To Fulfill from county resident Sam Smiley. Smiley provided evidence during public comment time at Tuesday's BOC meeting that Ceek to Fulfill shared the same address as the Democratic Party of Rockdale County, and that Cheryl Board, a youth job program coordinator with Ceek to Fulfill, was organizing a Dec. 19 Christmas party for Commissioner Oz Nesbitt.
Board was also hired by BOC Democratic candidate Courtney Dillard earlier this year to be his campaign's youth programs director. Dillard lost to incumbent Commissioner JaNice Van Ness in the Nov. 2 general election.
"My concern with this organization, as you thumb through this packet, is that it very much seems like we are funding a political organization," Smiley said.
Also in the packet were e-mails from Nesbitt responding to another county resident, Arthur Kidney, who had expressed concerns over Board's political activities and her work with Ceek to Fulfill.
Nesbitt replied in his e-mail that he supported Ceek to Fulfill's efforts in the community and acknowledged Board is "an active member of the local Democratic Party, a former supporter of the Dillard campaign and a board member of Ceek-to-full-fill (sic) all separate functions and roles."
"I am confident that she has the skills to separate politics, civics and business," Nesbitt said in his e-mail reply dated Nov. 21. "This is NOT (his caps) an unusual posture for active local citizens in the community."
A call to Evelyn Cooksey, executive director of Ceek to Fulfill, was not returned Tuesday after the BOC meeting.
Smiley disagreed and said Tuesday he felt it was a conflict of interest for Nesbitt to vote on the funding for Ceek to Fulfill. When the 2011 budget came to a vote the commissioners agreed to vote on funding for the outside and nonprofit agencies separately.
Nesbitt then announced he would abstain from voting on the outside and nonprofit agencies funding and left the room, leaving Commission Chairman Richard Oden and Commissioner JaNice Van Ness to work on that vote.
Van Ness sought to keep all the agencies at 2010 funding. Rockdale CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Rockdale Cares, Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts and Project ReNeWal had their funding cut in the 2011 budget.
Oden and Van Ness disagreed on Ceek to Fulfill. Van Ness suggested $5,000 while Oden wanted $20,000. Van Ness said it was the group's first year receiving county funds and she wanted to see what they could do in the community to warrant public funding.
"I recommend $5,000 since they are a new agency and it will give them the opportunity to prove themselves," she said.
Oden said the group was established in 2005 and showed to be a valuable program. He cited the summer youth work program in which Ceek to Fulfill partnered with the county in 2009.
"I think this organization has displayed a strong commitment to the community, and I'm willing to go to $20,000," he said.
"I think that will fail, then, because I'm not interested in funding any more than $5,000 and letting them prove themselves," Van Ness replied. She added there was a $1.2 million grant application in the works to fund Ceek to Fulfill's programs.
Oden said the grant process was competitive and there was no guarantee that the county could get the grant.
I want to make sure that we take care of these programs that enhance the value of our children in our community, including the at-risk youth and high-risk youth and those who face challenges," Oden said. "I came off of 35, and I'm OK at 20."
In the end, the commissioners agreed to disagree and tabled funding for Ceek to Fulfill for action another date. Tuesday was the BOC's final meeting of the year, so the next possible date to take action would be Jan. 11.