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Council asks county to reconsider grant application for ECSU

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Johnnie Walton

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, September 17, 2018

Elizabeth City City Council has asked the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners to reconsider its recent decision not to support a grant application from Elizabeth City State University to the Golden LEAF Foundation.

Council voted 6-2 last week to adopt a resolution urging the Pasquotank board to reconsider its decision to not include ECSU with four other applications it agreed to send to the Rocky Mount-based Golden LEAF Foundation. Created in 1999, the foundation administers one half of North Carolina’s tobacco settlement agreement monies through grants to the state’s rural and economically distressed communities.

Voting for the resolution were Fourth Ward Councilors Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton; Third Ward Councilors Kem Spence and Rickey King; and Second Ward Councilors Anita Hummer and Gabriel Adkins. King, council’s mayor pro tem, commented it was important to support ECSU as “one of the engines” of the county.

Voting against the resolution were Councilors Billy Caudle and Jeannie Young.

Commissioners voted to not include ECSU in the grants request after County Manager Sparty Hammett said Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach told him the foundation's board was unlikely to fund it. Gerlach said that's because ECSU has recently received other Golden LEAF grants, Hammett explained.

ECSU had asked for $500,000 to help build an outdoor pavilion for flying drones. ECSU professor Kuldeep Rawat had argued the pavilion would make ECSU's signature aviation program an even greater draw for the region.

Commissioners instead voted for the county to submit applications for $500,000 each on behalf of three other educational entities and one nonproft: Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, the Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, College of The Albemarle, and River City Community Development Corp. The four entities’ proposals include projects for classroom technology, facility improvements and, in River City's case, trades training for young adults.

Walton said he disagreed with ECSU's exclusion from the grant request, prompting him to ask for the resolution.

While not opposing the resolution, City Manager Rich Olson said it was “moot” because Golden LEAF’s application deadline has already passed. Olson explained the foundation is offering a total of $10.5 million through its Community-Based Grantsmaking Initiative to northeastern North Carolina to support education, workforce and economic development and agriculture.

Walton said the resolution still mattered. 

“People in this region still need to know what our priorities are,” Walton said, adding later, “If we within the city don't support ECSU, why do we think other people would?”

Olson said he shares some concerns about Golden LEAF’s grant program as well. Cities aren’t included in selecting or submitting grant applications, something he’s been “very vocal” about with Gerlach, he said.

Olson said the city has wanted to submit grant applications to the foundation to support a new senior center and installation of more fiber-optic lines to improve broadband internet access, but determined the projects weren't likely to win funding either.

Horton agreed with Walton about the resolution, and moved to approve it; Adkins seconded the motion.

Caudle opposed the resolution, however, saying there are better ways to convey the city's priorities. He said the resolution could “jeopardize” the pending applications for ECPPS, NEAAAT, COA and River City CDC.

“I don't understand what we would gain,” Caudle said. “It seems that there would be a lot better ways to communicate with the county what our priorities are and what we'd like to support.”

Responding to Caudle's concerns, Olson said he saw neither an upside nor a downside to adopting the resolution. He said Golden LEAF has turned down grant applications before because of controversy, but he noted the resolution Walton was proposing isn't protesting the other projects' consideration.

Notably, no councilors objected to any of the other proposals.

Caudle also suggested the resolution include language of support for other educational institutions. Councilor Kem Spence responded the resolution was specific to ECSU because its application was ruled out.

Young said she didn't want the council to “get in the weeds” of the application process, and asked the resolution, if passed, only be sent to Pasquotank County.

Horton said his motion was simply to approve the resolution, with no direction on whom it should be sent to. Walton reiterated the county and Golden LEAF should both be made aware of the council's priorities.

As a compromise, councilors passed the resolution 6-2 and directed it be sent to Pasquotank County and ECSU. Presumably, either entity could provide it to Golden LEAF to bolster a future grant proposal.

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