On Monday, Oct. 16th, Council had the difficult job of deciding whether to approve a contract with a new organization to manage the East Central Community Center. Council did approve a contract with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center on a 4-2 vote (CM Stratton and Fagan opposed, CM Beggs abstained).
Five years ago, the Administration began a process of transitioning the Center from being a City Department to being managed by an outside contractor. The first contractor to take this on was the East Central Community Organization (ECCO) and they should be commended for taking on this difficult task.
After renewing the contract once with ECCO several years back, the Council decided to go out for an RFP earlier this year. I don’t regret initiating this RFP process because I think it is vitally important that we have high-quality management of the Center with the hundreds of thousands of public dollars invested in the contract.
There is a lot of history over the past 5 years. However, in this RFP process, I took it upon myself to not dwell on the past, but to focus on the two proposals to manage the Center: one from ECCO and one from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which has managed an early learning and family center in the S. Perry area of the neighborhood for over 20 years.
Unfortunately, the review process of the two proposals before a decision came to Council was bumpy. Two different advisory groups gave conflicting recommendations to the Council about which proposal was the stronger one. This caused a lot of hard feelings and a divided neighborhood. The public testimony on Monday night showed this and it made me very sad.
Thus, I focused my review on the two proposals and the criteria laid out by the City. In reviewing the proposals, I found that the MLK Jr Center had the stronger proposal, specifically in three areas: integrating and expanding services; the ability to invest capital into maintenance and expansion of the Center; and a stronger fundraising plan and demonstrated experience raising capital and operating dollars.
I am very frustrated that the Administration-led community review process resulted in hard feelings on all sides. I am hopeful that the community can come together and that, especially, the MLK Jr Center, can reach across with an olive branch to ensure the efficient and healthy transition of leadership at the Center. The ultimate goal is providing a safe place where all are welcome and served in one of our most challenged neighborhoods.