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Seattle Urban League Shuts Down Controversial Minority Business Program Amidst Scandal, Financial Crisis

April 27, 2011

The Seattle Schools financial scandal that implicated minority small business owners and the Seattle Urban League, resulting in the dismissal of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson seems to have quieted down.

The media has turned their attention to SPS’s interim Super. Susan Enfield’s efforts to regain public trust and whip the district into shape on all fronts- particularly those with potential scandals of their own- everyone is trying to figure out if Enfield is right for the job. With no replacement prospects on the immediate horizon, many (but certainly not all) are careful not to question too hard for fear of losing Seattle’s bid to renew and double the Families and Education Levy in November.

The school district seems to have found a way to weather this storm intact, but not everyone has been that lucky- and by lucky I mean “too big to fail.”

The Seattle Urban League was implicated in the fiasco when the State Auditor released a report that in part, cast doubt on the validity and appropriateness of contracts awarded to the UL by SPS, saying the public benefit was questionable- i.e. the UL should have never had contracts in the first place.

Under interim CEO Tony Benjamin, who also headed the UL’s Contract Development and Competitiveness Center, the department responsible for fulfilling the SPS contracts, the UL denied any wrong doing, saying the District signed off on the the contracts and the UL met the requirements outlined.

After a press conference to reiterate those same talking points, the UL stopped talking publicly, likely in an effort to push the media to move on and to shore up their support (and the confidence of other funders).

Nevertheless, things have only gotten worse for the Urban League.

The specifics may not be public, but it’s clear the UL is in financial crisis having lost substantial contracts with SPS, the City of Seattle and others.

Now comes word the UL Board of Directors has shut down the Contractor Development and Competitiveness Center altogether and laid off staff; there is even a persistent rumor that interim CEO and President Tony Benjamin- once considered a front-runner for the job- has also been dismissed.

It’s a devastating blow to the UL legacy.

This latest action means only the Housing and Education departments remain.

The Urban League has a contract with WSDOT; according to Ann Briggs (Communications, State of Wa.) that contract is what is known as a “Task Order Agreement” which was created in January 2011. The TOA has a spending limit of up to $250,000 but was not a guarantee of work; the WSDOT could spend up to $250k with the UL but isn’t obligated to.

The TOA included funds for disadvantaged businesses and the UL’s Pathway’s program( which is under the CDCC).  No work has been done by the UL under the current TOA and therefore no money paid to them by WSDOT.  Briggs also stated WSDOT received notification from the Urban League on April 4th 2011 the UL had “ceased operations on April 1, 2011.”

I tried calling CDCC, but the department is no longer listed. Tony Benjamin could not be reached for comment.

Seattle may not have an Urban League for long.



3 Comments leave one →
  1. Black permalink
    April 27, 2011 2:33 pm

    WOW!! Who knew??? This like a snowball turning into an avalanche. Speechless.

  2. Business Owner permalink
    April 27, 2011 5:01 pm

    A month ago the Urban League was standing in front of the press exclaiming their innocence and good deeds, and now they’re laying off employees and shuttering entire departments in the hopes no one notices- and apparently it worked- haven’t seen news of this development anywhere else. This is nothing short of humiliating. At the same time it’s also to be expected. Egos and powertripping ran the organization into the ground. Talk about a legacy- to be the person or persons responsible for the distruction of the Seattle Urban League. Way to go. And thanks for dragging women and minority owned businesses into your mess- as if it weren’t hard enough for us already.

  3. Truth permalink
    April 27, 2011 8:39 pm

    The situation at the UL/CDCC is much worse than has been reported. Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into the Urban League between 2002 and 2011. Those dollars were to be spent on increasing the capacity of small contractors particularly those owned by people of color and women. The CDCC was supposed to be a separate entity with the Urban League holding fiduciary responsibility for the CDCC. Very quickly James Kelly pulled the CDCC into the Urban League as a department within the League. This meant that he had complete control of the dollars coming in. He used the CDCC to manage cash flow for the whole League rather than using the funds to assist the contractors. Tony Benjamin had no say as to how the dollars were spent or the ability to make any management decisions. James Kelly maintained complete control with the help of John Chuta, the contracted financial officer. The dollars coming into the League for services provided by the CDCC kept the League alive. Funding sources often received threatening phone calls from Mr Kelly if they were refusing to pay based on lack of support documentation for work preformed. City employees celebrated when Mayor McGinn allowed the City departments to put contracts out for bid for the work previously preformed by the CDCC. James Kelly and John Chuta should go to jail for the fraud they perpetrated and Tony Benjamin should be ashamed that he stood by and let it happen. Just try to find one person to tell you that this program accomplished what it was supposed to or that one business is in a better position than it was before the CDCC provided “assistance”. Silas Potter did us a favor by creating a situation that brought this to light.

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