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Coalition that pressed Tulsa city councilors for transparency in American Rescue Plan awards presents its vision for the process

Matt Trotter

A coalition that pressed Tulsa city councilors for a transparent process to allocate American Rescue Plan money presented its vision for the process.

The Tulsa City Council invited the ARPA Community Coalition to a committee meeting on Wednesday to share their proposal. The coalition wants to see a community grant fund that would help small, local nonprofits get funding.

“We are requesting that, that fund have at least $15 million of the American Recovery Plan's funds. That would be administered through a community partner, and we have been in conversations with the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation ... and they are willing to partner with us,” said OSU-Tulsa Center for Public Life Co-Director Mike Stout.

Speaking with the coalition, Terence Crutcher Foundation Deputy Director Sheyda Brown told city councilors she checked potential participants against city CARES Act money recipients, and there were just four on both lists.

“So, these aren't even the organizations that have already received $6.5 million in funding. These are organizations that didn't apply, didn't really know about the opportunity,” Brown said.

The coalition said the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits could teach grant writing, setting small organizations up to pursue other funding sources in the future.

“I know this is just what you're doing for ARPA, but I see this list and I'm, like, 'These are the applications I need to see up here for the money we're getting on a regular basis,’” said Councilor Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.

But Councilor Lori Decter Wright warned reporting requirements for federal funds can be overly burdensome. She runs Kendall Whitter Incorporated and said they don’t apply for certain grants.

“Because we don't have capacity. It would cost us money to do it. And I want to align expectations. This is a lot of money, but -- and my organization, pull the 990, we run on $160,000 a year,” Decter Wright said.

Stout said they have not thought out an application process yet. City Councilor Phil Lakin expressed concern if the intent isn’t for the city to have the final say in funding decisions.

“We have volunteer groups that go out and receive applications, review them, rank them, score them, bring them in to us and discuss them with us, but at the end of the day, it's the council and the mayor approving whatever list,” Lakin said.

Members of the coalition expressed concern in September after the city had allocated nearly half of its $88 million ARPA allocation without public input.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.