City Director of Economic Development and Strategic Partnerships Gregg Swanzey says he just wants to keep members of the Common Council updated on his effort to untangle apparent problems with seven grants that could, he says, put the city at risk of losing some $342,000.
But Parks & Recreation Department employee and mayoral candidate Steve Noble believes Swanzey’s planned appearance before the Council’s Finance and Audit Committee on the evening of Wednesday, July 15, is part of a smear campaign orchestrated by his boss and opponent in September’s Democratic primary, Mayor Shayne Gallo. Noble said he wants to address the committee, but it is unclear how or if he will be allowed to do so by committee chair and Gallo ally Maryann Mills (D-Ward 7).
The showdown at City Hall is the latest development in an unusual contest between a sitting mayor and a city employee for the Democratic Party line in September and the mayor’s office in November. Noble, who’s uncle, Jim Noble, is alderman-at-large, has worked for a decade in the Parks & Recreation Department and was promoted in October to the post of special projects manager.
In May, Beth Hanigan, president of the Junior League of Kingston, drafted a letter to Gallo complaining that the nonprofit was told they could not receive reimbursement for construction of the Kinderland II playground at Forsyth Park because they were missing key documentation to comply with a state grant obtained for the project. Hanigan accused Noble of failing to advise the league on the need to document volunteer hours, efforts to recruit minority and women owned businesses for the job and other issues. In response, Gallo directed Swanzey to examine the Kinderland II grant and six more Parks & Rec grants that Noble administered to determine if there were problem and, if so, to rectify them. Noble contends that he advised the Junior League on all grant requirements and accused Gallo of creating the controversy in order to cast doubt on his competence ahead of September’s primary.
Swanzey, meanwhile, has said that he had identified serious problems with all seven grants, ranging from a failure to document time expended by the city to “match” contributions from grants to a failure to submit claims for reimbursement for completed projects. Swanzey said earlier this week that at Wednesday’s meeting he planned to present all of the information he had gathered so far. Swanzey said that he was working to fill in missing documentation and find matching funds or time to complete documentation for the seven grants. But, he said, it was possible that the council would have to make up some of the funding from city resources.
“I plan to answer any questions they may have,” said Swanzey. “And just give them the heads-up that we’re trying to resolve these issues but we may have to come back and ask them to finance some of this stuff if we can’t come up with the match.”
Noble did not return calls seeking comment. But on his campaign’s blog, the candidate said that grants controversy was part of a pattern of politically motivated attacks on his reputation by the Gallo administration. In the posting, Noble said that Swanzey’s review was entirely at the direction of the mayor, not any outside agency.
“The City of Kingston has not lost any funding due to any of my work. We have never received a letter from a funding source requiring corrective actions or a denial of reimbursement,” Noble wrote. “We have never requested contingency funding from the Common Council. In fact, I have continued to identify and acquire necessary funds to support the projects we can all agree are critical to our community.”
The blog post goes on to say that he plans to speak at the Finance Committee meeting to defend his record. But that would require approval from committee chair Mills, a staunch Gallo ally. Swanzey said that Noble had not been asked to participate in the meeting and would not be there in any official capacity.
“No one to my knowledge required him to be there; it’s really not an inquisition” said Swanzey. “If he comes he may or may not be allowed to participate. I’m not sure he’s on the agenda.”
Like Swanzey, Gallo vigorously denied any political motive in the committee presentation. In a memo to Mills, Gallo praised Swanzey’s administration of the city’c Economic Development office and credits him with obtaining $8 million in grant money. Gallo also wrote that Swanzey had obtained extensions on grants from a previous administration that were in danger of being lost and helped centralize all grant documentation in a single database. The memo goes on to single out Noble by name for failing to use the new software.
“Mr. Swanzey’s role here is not political,” said Gallo. “His role is to identify from the administration of [The Kinderland II] grant where the errors are, where the inaction has been and advise the council on how the city can save hundreds of thousands of dollars that’s now at risk.”
But committee member and Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will said he thinks Swanzey’s appearance before the committee reeks of election-season politics. Instead of focusing on a handful of grants administered by the mayor’s primary opponent, Will, a frequent Gallo antagonist, said he would like to see a review of a much broader range of city grants, including those administered by Swanzey. Like Swanzey, however, Will believed that Noble need not make an appearance at the Finance Committee meeting.
“In this political season, you can take it for what it’s worth that this has been brought up at all,” said Will. “I don’t see why he should be there, I wouldn’t give it that much legitimacy.”