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West Memphis wants new grant writer

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City leaders hoping position will generate funds for special projects By John Rech

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West Memphis city council heard first and second readings for another new position in the Mayor Marco McClendon administration. Last year the mayor created a communication director spot for social media outreach, traditional media and public relations. Another position for community outreach was constructed including social media relations and community event coordination. Two new slots were created at the police department, one for a major and another for department community relations.

McClendon opted for a new three way split for sanitation supervision last year and also added a sanitation code enforcement position.

The newest proposed position for a grant researcher and writer was heard for the first time at the last council meeting in December and reread for a second time during its first meeting of 2020.

The proposed ordinance would establish the new position on the city organization chart to work along with the economic development department to bring grant money into all city departments, the mayor’s office and utility department initiatives. City waste water has been under a corrective action plan issued by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Pay for the position would peak at $60,000 per year and commensurate experience of the job candidate presented to the city.

Councilman Wayne Croom suggested tweaking the proposal. City council would have until the third and final reading to modify the proposed ordinance regarding the full-time grant writing position. Croom wanted a pay-for-performance contractor.

“Could we look at the option of having a grant writing company on retainer?” asked Croom.

The mayor felt he had the discretion to go either way.

“It’s in there,” said McClendon. “I can either hire someone or contract.”

The last provision of the ordinance backed up the mayor’s point with Croom reading, “This grant researcher/ writer can be hired as an employee or contractor with salary not to exceed $60,000.

“I’d like to see the language changed a tad,” said Croom. “I’d like that the writer is held only on retainer and only called to write a grant instead. I wouldn’t want to pay a $60,000 salary. I want to see the verbiage changed. That way we’d only pay them if we used them.”

Councilman James Pulliaum reminded city council changes could be made to the proposed ordinance right up to the final future vote.

Mayor McClendon expressed desire to staff the new position so the city could become proactive in finding new grant sources.

“My idea was not just sitting around waiting on some one to write a grant for us,” said McClendon. “They could write a grant for all the polices, the fire department anything they can find to bring to the table that would be beneficial for the city of West Memphis. We are potentially missing al lot because we don’t have anybody looking out.”

“I hear all that,” said Croom. “I just want to go a less expensive way.”

In addition to salary the city would pay traditional insurance and retirement benefits and have to equip an office for a staff position.

Croom hoped to trim expenses by contracting the work piece-by-piece instead of hiring to a full-time permanent position.

“We could look at adding the position to the 2020 budget and bring it up in those discussions,” said Councilman Tracy Catt.

Croom advanced the same idea at the second reading of the ordinance. Nothing had changed from the initial hearing.

The mayor responded even more specifically to Croom’s concern pointing again to the discretion to hire outright or retain grant writing under a contract.

“I will go whichever way city council wishes,” said McClendon.

City Planing and development Director Paul Luker weighed in.

“There is another aspect to grants other than writing them,” said Luker. “That is managing them once you have them. I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of grant writers out there that can write a great grant and get funded, but then actually implementing that grant, managing it, running it like it supposed to under the terms of the grant, they can’t. When you don’t use the grant properly they expect the grant funds paid back.”

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