Wilkin to meet Monday with DOJ officials on RFL grant

By Gary Abernathy - gabernathy@aimmediamidwest.com



Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin will meet with Department of Justice grant officials at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss the $844,000 federal award for crime fighting and rehabilitation of the Rocky Fork Lake region, a grant that was awarded in October 2016 but has been in limbo for nearly a year.

Wilkin said earlier this month that DOJ officials had finally agreed to a meeting, but the exact time and date had not been established until this week, when Wilkin received a phone call.

Also attending the meeting will be county commission clerk Nicole Oberrecht, who handles grants for the county. Wilkin said Oberrecht would fly in Monday morning and out again later the same day. Wilkin will be in Washington longer for meetings connected with the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.

Wilkin said Wednesday that after he gave DOJ officials the names of who would be attending from the county, they asked, “Is that it?”

Wilkin said, “I told them, ‘That’s the way we do it in rural Ohio. I don’t have a big staff.’”

Staffing and oversight issues have been among the concerns expressed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the grant wing of the DOJ.

After months of local officials receiving little to no responses from the BJA about the grant snafu, federal officials finally responded to inquiries earlier this month from The Times-Gazette, saying the holdup was due to concerns that “key grants management responsibilities were being administered by a sub-recipient,” and “the grantee did not have adequate internal controls in place to ensure funds were to be expended in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award.”

Wilkin and others have said that a major part of the problem with the grant has been constant changes in requirements, endless requests for more documentation, and, as other officials described it, “moving the goalposts” in ways that small counties like Highland cannot adjust due to small staffing.

For several months Wilkin was frustrated by a lack of answers, saying in late January that he had offered “to fly out (to Washington) for a face to face.” He said he wanted to ask, “What happened here? Why did this happen?”

The agreement by BJA officials to meet with Wilkin came on the heels of Times-Gazette articles detailing the difficulties that elected officials and the newspaper had experienced in getting answers from federal officials about the holdup of the award from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program.

The Times-Gazette’s stories included expressions of frustration from U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-2nd Dist.) and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Wilkin said BJA officials had been communicating with him through Wenstrup’s office until finally contacting him directly by phone this week.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.


By Gary Abernathy