$100,000-a-year lobbying firm loses job County's 'hefty return' failed to materialize

March 26, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The county paid a Washington consulting firm $100,000 to help bring home federal grant dollars, but with little to show for the investment, officials let the one-year contract expire last month.

It was an experiment that didn't pan out, said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for County Executive John G. Gary.

It was touted as more than an experiment by the administration in 1996, when officials urged the County Council to approve the expense, said Councilwoman Diane R. Evans.

"They had promised that there would be a hefty return on our investment of $100,000," she said. On learning that the county had won no federal grants as a result of contract, she said, "I'm terribly disappointed."

In the year of the contract, Waterman & Associates, among other things, set up a meeting between officials of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and a former county agency, now privatized; asked Maryland's U.S. senators and representatives to support a grant application; found grants for which London Town and the Jug Bay Wetlands Project might qualify; and informed Gary about federal welfare-to-work block grants and tax credits.

Several of those services are available at no charge through the offices of senators and representatives in Washington who routinely write letters of support for grant applications when local officials and constituents ask.

In addition, the office of Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest employs a grants administrator who looks for grants that match constituents' needs.

In Gilchrest's 1st District office, on the third floor of the Arundel Center just below Gary's office, Katherine Hicks works with a database of contacts in federal agencies. Although anyone with Internet access can find clearinghouses of federal grants and federal money available through the state, Hicks will do much of the legwork when constituents and local officials call.

"I actually look up the grants, and I'll print them out if I can find them," said Hicks, who also is district office manager and service academy liaison. "If they do apply, our office will offer to send a letter of support."

Calling herself a "one-person advisory commission," Hicks said she also gives tips on the proposals but does not write the grant applications.

She met with Ron and Diana Waterman about a year ago, when they began their work for the county, and spoke to them twice by telephone, the last time to inform them that a HUD grant the Watermans had been pushing had fallen through.

The Watermans did not return a call to their Capitol Hill office yesterday.

According to the proposal submitted to the county, Waterman & Associates' other municipal clients include Milwaukee County, Wis.; the California State Association of Counties; and the Port of Houston Authority. Among its successes over the past 10 years or so, it lists a grant of $25.5 million for Milwaukee County to set up a bus service.

With the help of the consultants and Ardath M. Cade, the Anne Arundel human services officer, the Business and Workforce Development Center tried for a second time last year to win a $600,000 HUD grant for the Gateway program to train high school dropouts to rehabilitate housing.

The application scored higher than the previous year's but wasn't good enough.

"I think they were very helpful," said Dorothy McGuiness, executive director of the Business and Workforce Development Center of Anne Arundel County Inc. (BWDC), a former county agency that offers job training. "I don't think it was for lack of diligence on their part" that the center did not win the grant.

McGuiness said she and Cade probably would not have had a meeting with a HUD official without the help of Waterman & Associates.

The BWDC would have used the money to train youths while they rehabilitated two run-down cottages on the grounds of Crownsville Hospital Center. The BWDC has scaled down its program, but with $500,000 in county money and other federal grants, it will still train youths in construction and rehabilitation work, she said.

The county's approach to seeking grants had generally been uncoordinated and "hit or miss," Ritter said.

"The consultant was hired in the beginning because we realized that there are a great number of grants available and, unfortunately, one has to be familiar with what they are and who the players are" to have a good chance of winning one, she said. "It didn't pan out. They were not able to make the connections that would yield grants."

Gary is not likely to suggest hiring another consultant in the immediate future, she said.

Evans, who is challenging Gary for the Republican nomination for county executive, wants to be sure of that.

"I don't want it to be tried again because I will not support it," said Evans. "They spoke glowingly of the ability to have this happen, and it didn't work.

World Wide Web sites that list available federal money include www.gsa.gov/fdac and www.op. state.md.us/clhouse/redbook/redbook.html.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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