06/11/17 — Councilman's business cannot use summer job program youths

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Councilman's business cannot use summer job program youths

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on June 11, 2017 1:45 AM

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Pamela Leake, Goldsboro interim human relations director, reviews pre-employment paperwork with Erica Hobbs, Enijah Pace and Jacob Boomhower, teens who start work Monday in the new summer youth employment program.

A Goldsboro councilman who asked city officials to start a new summer job program for teens also sought to have 12 jobs from the program.

Yvonnia Moore, who co-owns The Ice Storm with Councilman Antonio Williams, applied to be a work site for the program and asked for six cart attendants and six cashiers.

City officials say the request is a direct conflict of interest because Williams is a councilman who voted for the program.

"Unfortunately, after consulting the city attorney, The Ice Storm was determined to be ineligible for designation as a work site for the program," said Shycole Simpson-Carter, Goldsboro community relations director, in an email to Williams.

"Due to it being a conflict of interest, as The Ice Storm is a city councilman's place of establishment and you voted on the funding of the program."

Simpson-Carter notified City Manager Scott Stevens about the conflict and provided state law that prevents elected officials from benefiting from programs under their jurisdiction.

"No public officer or employee who is involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of a public agency may derive a direct benefit from the contract ... " according to General Statute 14.234(a)(1).

Simpson-Carter told Stevens, in an email, that Williams would have needed to recuse himself from the vote to create the city program, which is paying for 47 jobs in Goldsboro.

The summer youth job program will employ a total of 81 teens this year, with 13 jobs funded through the Housing Authority of Goldsboro. In addition to the 47, another 15 lifeguard positions and six camp counselor jobs are being paid for by the city, bringing the full city cost to about $95,000.

Earlier this year, Williams asked the council and city staff, including Simpson-Carter, if a summer youth jobs program could be started in an effort to provide a positive experience for the city's youth.

Simpson-Carter, along with employees of the Housing Authority and Wayne Community College, partnered to develop the program, which starts this month.

Most of the jobs will pay between $7.25 to $8.25 per hour, a level Williams advocated for, for teens age 14 to 18.

"I think it is a good program for the city of Goldsboro," Stevens said. "It's not something where we can promise a job to any kid that wants it, but I don't know anywhere else that 14- or 15-year-old kids would go to get this kind of experience, and probably most 16-year-olds could not."

The city received 81 work site requests from government agencies, nonprofits, schools and local businesses. None of the other requests presented a concern about a conflict of interest, Simpson-Carter said.

Work sites benefit from the program by receiving employees, many which require supervision, at no cost to the agency, business or nonprofit. The employees are paid by the city or the Housing Authority, Stevens said.

Had the Ice Storm been approved, the business would have benefited from not having to hire its own employees.

"To work in Councilman Williams' place of establishment whether he owns a stake of 100 percent or 1 percent, he would derive a benefit of nothing less than youth from the program allowing Councilman Williams to not employ paid staff from his personal/business funds," Simpson-Carter wrote to Stevens in her email exchange.

Williams and Moore asked for a meeting with Stevens and Simpson-Carter after learning the Ice Storm could not participate in the summer job program.

Stevens declined to share the details of the meeting, except to say the two were interested in learning more about the work site denial.

"We talked through that issue, and as far as I'm concerned, it's resolved," Stevens said.

"In terms of benefiting him, he didn't see that as being as big a benefit to him as it was providing an opportunity to kids. I do think his intent for that was genuine of trying to help more kids get jobs."

Williams has consistently pushed for city officials to increase the number of jobs available in the program. City officials decided early on to not allow the program to get too large during its first year. Williams declined to comment on his interest in having a dozen workers for his downtown business.

The success of this year's program will be evaluated before a decision is made to continue in subsequent years, Stevens said.

"I can't see us not doing a similar program," Stevens said. "I think it's a good program. I think the program will be successful."

The first-of-its-kind Summer Youth Employment Initiative drew 294 applicants. After the list was narrowed to 194 eligible youth, every applicant was interviewed, with 60 being hired. The city considers the additional 15 lifeguards and six camp counselors as part of its investment in employing summer youth.

The 60 teens will work an average of four hours each day, Monday through Thursday. Fridays are set aside for employment related education or an excursion to places, including the Legislature and the beach.

The program includes two six-week employment tracts, starting this month and continuing through August.