by Marc Broklawski, cross posted on Medium
I recently wrote about how Stafford County Public Schools is struggling to pay for increased costs for safety precautions due to COVID-19; and, how the Stafford Board of Supervisors (BOS) seems more interested in cutting school funding than making sure that teachers and our children have what they need to teach and learn in a safe environment.
The Stafford BOS received $13.3M in the first round of CARES Act funds and only provided $990K of those funds to the school system, along with a $1.1M “loan” that they could claw back from the schools.
Why was this loaned to the schools? Why didn’t they just give this money to the school system, knowing that the schools are going to need funds to succeed in their return to schools — either in-person or virtual. This is a transformative time for schools and they need every bit of resources that can be mustered to deal with the changes that are being thrown at them.
Meanwhile the Stafford BOS distributed approximately $2M in CARES Act grants to local businesses. Some of these businesses are worthy enterprises, but it does raise a few eyebrows when some of the grantees align closely to donor lists of members of the BOS. And why isn’t this list public for all to see?
I have obtained a copy of this list and it appears, looking at the criteria, funds were given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. How did the first-serve know that these funds were available?
From the Stafford Economic Development Authority’s (EDAs) meeting minutes dated April 10, 2020, this may became a little clearer.
Mr. Griffin stated that he has been getting a lot of calls and emails in response to the EDA Coronavirus grant program. He has been getting them directly and forwarded by members of the Board of Supervisors. He has been responding with, generally, the message he has shared with the EDA previously. Generally, the inquiries have been positive other than a number of requests to consider business with 1–4 employees.
Mr. Griffin reported generally positive reaction from the Board of Supervisors. He noted that he had a long conversation with one member of the Board of Supervisors that expressed desire to financially support the EDA more so in the future.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s the Good Ole Boy way of doing business.
What exactly were members of the BOS forwarding and what conversations were happening with the members who were responsible for awarding these grants at the EDA?
What are some of the more interesting grants favored by the members of the BOS and EDA?
- Let’s start with Closet Interiors Plus, Inc. by former Supervisor and ex-felon Paul Milde. His business received a grant of $5,000. Milde had made donations to several members of the Board of Supervisors including Supervisors Crystal Vanuch, Meg Bohmke and Mark Dudenhefer totaling $4,075.
- Boswell’s Automotive is owned by Roy and Melissa Boswell. They received a grant of $5,000. The business and couple had made donations to several members of the Board of Supervisors including Supervisors Crystal Vanuch and Garry Snellings totaling $1,250.
- Communication Specialists is owned by William S. Hoovler. He received a grant of $5,000 and had made several donations to several members of the Board of Supervisors including Supervisors Meg Bohmke and Gary Snellings totaling $1,250.
- Naim Corporation (Sam’s Pizza & Subs) is a Stock Corporation owned with Ehsan Kamel as President, Kamil Kamel as Vice President and Bahi Kamel as Secretary. They received a grant of $5,000 and have made several donations to several members of the Board of Supervisors including Supervisors Gary Snellings and Mark Dudenhefer totaling $1,350.
- The next company is JIFFCO, Inc. (Sams Pizza & Subs). They received a grant of $5,000 and have previously made a donation to Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer totaling $250.
- Sam’s Pizza & Subs also donated a total of $450 to Supervisors Crystal Vanuch and Gary Snellings. It’s unclear whether these donations were associated with Naim Corporation of JIFFCO, Inc — both who received $5,000 grants.
- The next company is The Three D’s Inc. (Del’s Automotive). They received a grant of $5,000 and previously made a donation to Supervisor Crystal Vanuch totaling $500.
- Next up is 610 Car Wash LLC. They received a grant of $7,500 and previously made a donation to Supervisor Crystal Vanuch totaling $250.
- Then there is Burton’s Automotive owned by Robert Burton. They received a grant of $5,000 and previously made donations to Supervisor Gary Snellings totaling $2,050.
- Caldwell Consultants LLC is owned by Chris Caldwell. They received a grant of $2,000 and previously made a donation to Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer totaling $1,304.
- Development Construction Services, Inc. is owned by Samer and Catherine Shalaby. They received a grant of $5,000 and previously made donations to Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer totaling $1,000.
These grants were awarded out of round one and two of the EDAs COVID-19 grant program. The total amount awarded in both of these rounds were $457K. Out of that nearly $50K went to donors of Supervisors, which I’ve been able to identify. It’s possible that number could actually be higher.
Beyond these donors, two other businesses jumped out to me.
There’s Amy’s Cafe, which received $60K in 2012 from the EDA to “rejuvenate” the Falmouth Bottom area of Stafford. These funds were used to help fund roughly $150K in planned building improvements. The night life is amazing in Falmouth Bottom, right?
I’ve long been a critic of this waste of taxpayer dollars based on “political connections.” Former Supervisor and Delegate Bob Thomas and former Supervisor Paul Milde were big supporters — both receiving political donations from Amy’s Cafe.
Why did Stafford County using taxpayer dollars to fund fixing up a private building in Falmouth? My understanding is that this building isn’t only a restaurant, but also the couple’s private residence. Heck, will the EDA give me some money to fix up *my* residence?
Instead of using tax revenues to fund private entities, we could have used these funds for education. That $60K would have really helped fix some of those ventilation and air quality issues in our schools, which have been delayed for years do to chronic underfunding of our schools by the BOS. It’s all about priorities and our schools have not been one for many years.
Fast forward to 2020, and Amy’s Cafe gets another grant of $5,000. At this point, every Stafford resident should be entitled to a free meal at least, right?
Then there was B&R Ranch LLC owned by Boris and Rachel Gokovski. I’m actually at a loss on how the BOS and EDA decided to support a business owned by someone convicted of sexual battery and child cruelty! Rachel was also convicted of “contempt of court for a July 18 in-court confrontation” with one of the victims. They received a grant of $2,000 — at least, he’s now covered 50 percent of the $4,000 in fines as part of the jury’s conviction on four counts of sexual battery.
This is more important than investing in our schools to provide a safe learning environment for our students during a global pandemic? Vanuch and Bohmke threatened to cut funding to our schools two weeks ago and, instead, decided to reward donors and invest in these private entities? So, they attack our schools and staff and believe that this sort of spending is a higher priority? Maybe they should worry about getting their own house in order first.
I could only imagine what other stories may lie within this list that has remained hidden from public view. As Justice Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
The EDA begins accepting round three of applications on Monday, August 17, 2020. I wonder who else will get rewarded and what other businesses will be prioritized over our biggest economic driver and largest employer in Stafford County — Stafford County Public Schools.