YouthZone pulled from Glenwood’s grant recipient list after councilor comments raise potential conflict of interest

In years past, YouthZone has received significant funding from Glenwood Springs' discretionary and tourism grant cycle. This year, however, the local nonprofit was pulled from the recipient list, and at no fault of its own. Matthew Bennett / Post Independent
Grant Recipients: Alpine Legal Services $5,000  Catholic Charities $12,500  Family Visitor Programs $2,500  Glenwood Springs Chamber Foundation $100,000  Homecare and Hospice of the Valley $3,750  Mountain Valley Developmental Services $5,000  River Bridge Regional Center $5,000  Coventure $10,000 

The Glenwood Springs City Council recently awarded approximately $143,000 in discretionary and tourism grants to not-for-profit organizations.

However, one past recipient — YouthZone — was awarded no money after a concern was raised about Councilor Paula Stepp’s participation in the financial advisory board’s grant recommendation process.

Stepp does contract work for YouthZone and also serves as an alternate council liaison to the financial advisory board.

Stepp recused herself from the May 7 city council meeting, when councilors discussed and ultimately voted to award the grants.

But she did not recuse herself from an April 29 financial advisory board meeting where board members reviewed grant applications and made a recommendation to council.

“I am just going to put it right out there, I made a mistake,” Stepp said in an interview earlier this week. “I should not have made a comment.”

During its April 29 meeting, the financial advisory board reviewed 32 grant applications and recommended nine to city council for approval.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this year’s grant application deadline was extended by two weeks to April 17.

Additional applicants were welcome and those that had already applied were able to update their submittals to address how they would potentially assist economic recovery in Glenwood Springs should they receive grant funding from the city.

Applicants were still required to be not-for-profit government or tax-supported public entities.

Financial Advisory Board Chair Ksana Oglesby, the board focused on entities that provided support for basic needs in its recommendations.

“This has been a really tough year,” Oglesby said to members of council at a May 7 city council meeting. “It was more difficult than it’s been, since I’ve been on the board, to go through the process of reviewing the grants this year.”

The vast majority of grant dollars, including $100,000, went to the Glenwood Springs Chamber Foundation.

The Glenwood Springs Chamber Foundation is a nonprofit affiliate of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

The foundation will not utilize the $100,000, itself, but will instead allocate the entire amount to the Get Glenwood Going Grant (G4) Program, which will provide grant funding to small local businesses.

City Council was set to vote on whether or not to approve all nine of the financial advisory board’s grant recommendations at its May 7 meeting.

However, ahead of the vote, Councilor Tony Hershey expressed concerns over Stepp not recusing herself during the April 29 financial advisory board meeting.

“My understanding is at the (financial advisory board meeting) that she did inject herself into it,” Hershey said during the May 7 council meeting. “I have serious concerns that she did not recuse herself.”

Due to Hershey’s concern, councilors agreed to approve the financial advisory board’s grant recommendation with the exception of $4,930 going to YouthZone.

In years past, YouthZone has received discretionary and tourism grant dollars from the city including $43,000 in 2019.

“Because of my involvement in the community there are some associations that I should’ve recused myself from,” Stepp said. “I totally take responsibility for this.”

Stepp made clear that YouthZone would never, under any circumstance, ask her to speak on its behalf in her official capacity.

“I don’t want this to impact them, now or in the future,” Stepp said. “This is really a mistake on my part in my interaction with the (financial advisory board) grant process.”

Stepp said she interjected to explain what YouthZone did during the financial advisory board meeting out of frustration.

“…it was disorganized and people were asking what the organizations were,” Stepp said of that April 29 financial advisory board meeting. “I spoke up at the end trying to explain what YouthZone does.”

YouthZone fosters positive youth development and specializes in intervention, prevention and volunteerism for individuals between the ages of 6 and 18.

“There is not one nonprofit in this valley that is not struggling,” said Lori Mueller, YouthZone Executive Director. “When services get cut from what we do, we’re cutting the actual health and wellbeing of our communities and I believe that to my core.”

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