Oakland's Work Investment Board had plenty to answer to on Tuesday about it's loss of $600,000 in federal funds that would have provided relief for long-unemployed adults.
On Councilman Larry Reid's request, the city administrator's office presented a report at Tuesday's special public works committee that detailed where the WIB and the city went wrong in keeping the grant money.
According to the city administrator's report, the funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were intended to help alleviate Oakland's unemployment crisis by matching out-of-work adults with businesses that offered on-the-job training.
But from the beginning of the city's pursuit of the grant in 2010, under former mayor Ron Dellums, there was a disconnect between the intent of the grant and how the city wanted to use it.
After Dellums' administration applied for and received the original $725,462 of the ARRA-funded On-the-Job Training National Emergency Grant, it allocated the funds to the Youth Employment Partnership and Volunteers of America, Bay Area.
The two organizations intended to use the money to help youth and former inmates re-enter the workforce, even though the grant was supposed to help workers laid off throughout the recession.
The grant also required that YEP and VABA go through a competitive bidding process called a Request for Proposals. They didn't.
Last year, after having already spent $125,462 of the grant, and after multiple warnings from the California State Employment Development Department about the problems with the grant proposal, the city relinquished its hold on the remaining $600,000.
Representatives of the WIB were at Tuesday's meeting to explain what happened.
"We have to admit that there were mistakes made," WIB chair Bryan Parker said. "We had slow and antiquated systems at the city, we had people who needed to be replaced, and they were … anytime we're losing money that could be going out to the streets, I think it's a horrible travesty."
Parker said that several WIB staff members were replaced.
Other WIB board members like Bill Aboudi, the president of Oakland Maritime Support Services at the Port of Oakland, said that the all-volunteer board was not equipped to be dealing with complex federal funding grants.
"I get confused," Aboudi said. "We get tossed all of these numbers and regulations and rules - and its too much for a volunteer board to handle."
Several public speakers and even Council President Patricia Kernighan indicted the WIB for a history of mismanaged investments for Oakland's unemployed.
"If you look at the WIB, this is not a very impressive history. It's not problem of recent origin, this is a problem that goes back years," Kernighan said. The councilwoman also noted that the WIB has struggled before with complex federal grants.
"This is a hard bucket of money to use," she said. "The city WIB has not done this particularly well for a long time."
Others were angered at apparent favoritism in the WIB's allocation of federal funds: executive director John Bailey was once a director of Volunteers of America.
Councilman Reid said he would call for another public hearing for the WIB so that more members of the public could have their voices heard. For many of the public speakers at the meeting, replacements and excuses from the WIB were not enough.
"We're not looking for a witch hunt here," said Rebecca White, member of the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club. "But accountability really belongs to individuals and not to agencies."
Other speakers didn't hold back their frustrations with the WIB.
"I've watched them fumble, I've watched them make fouls," said one speaker. "They are incapable of doing what they are supposed to do, they are irresponsible and they are incompetent."