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City Staff defends decision to allocate 2023 SDP funds without consulting the SDP
By Fred Alvarado
Fred is a RPTV Journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre
The Regent Park Social Development Plan, also known as the SDP, is a community wide initiative aimed at fostering unity and togetherness among all the different residents and stakeholder groups in the community. The Social Development Plan is built around 4 areas of priorities of the SDP. Each priority area is represented by a different committee. The SDP committees are Safety, Communications, Employment and Economic Development and Community Building.
In addition to the four committees, there is a SDP Planning Committee, comprised of members and stakeholders that meets weekly to help guide the activities of the SDP.
The first SDP Planning Committee of the 2023 year took place on January 12, 2023, at 1 pm over Zoom. The meeting was chaired by Greg Gary, an agency chair of the SDP.
The January 12, 2023, planning committee meeting focused almost entirely on concerns related to the SDP funding, namely the City of Toronto’s staff decision to allocate 2023 funding resources, without prior consultations with the SDP. The invited guests for the meeting were Jenifer Hoffman, and Oleg Segin, from the City of Toronto Community Funding Unit.
Adonis Huggins from Focus Media Arts Centre and an agency member of the SDP Communications Committee began the meeting by outlining the SDP’s year- long deliberations that were held with the City prior to the call for proposals. Adonis pointed out that at the end of these year-long deliberations, the City and the SDP came up with a mutually agreed upon process for the 2022 funding application. It was agreed that a community review panel facilitated by the City would be established to review the grants and that applicants had to meet one or more times on the four priorities of the SDP. Adonis argued that at no time was there a discussion about allocating 2023 funds to groups that applied for the 2022 call for funding applications.
By not consulting the SDP, Adonis argued that the City violated its agreement to work collectively with the SDP. “If this idea suddenly came up, why didn’t the City come back to the SDP and say, 'Hey, we are considering using the 2023 allocations to fund more of the 2022 applications…what do you think of this idea?”argued Adonis.
In response, Jennifer Hoffman stated the view that the SDP Planning Committee is in conflict of interest as many of its members had applied for the 2022 call for proposals. Jennifer argued that the City could not come back to the SDP without violating its conflict of interest policy. Richard Kirwan, from City Development Unit, reiterated Jennifer’s position, that City can’t come back in the middle of a funding review process to talk to people that have applications in the process.
Adonis refuted the City’s conflict of interest claim by arguing that there was no need to release any information about any of the applicants that were conditionally approved. The only information that the City needed to inform the SDP about, was that that the City was proposing to use funds earmarked for 2023, to fund some of the 2022 applicants. In these discussions the applicants would remain nameless.
Jennifer Hoffman argued that the City did consult with the jury panel, which comprised of Regent Park community members, about the idea of using 2023 funds to resource more of the 2022 applicants. To which Adonis argued that instead of working with the SDP, the City empowered an ad hoc grant review panel of residents to make decisions about matters that should have been addressed at the SDP Planning Committee meetings.
Adonis also pointed out that the SDP Planning Committee had scheduled meetings in December precisely to hear from Oleg and the City Community Funding Unit on how the process was going. Unfortunately Oleg Segin, for whatever reason, did not attend these meetings. Additionally, the City development staff who were present (Richard Kirwan and Daniella Castello) indicated that there was no need to reschedule Oleg, as there was no issues for the SDP to be concerned about.
In the January 12th meeting, Oleg Segin from the Community Funding Unit argued that he didn’t think he had to go back to the SDP, dismissive of the fact that the SDP Planning Committee had been holding a review of the funding in partnership with the City for the past year.
At the meeting, Ismail Afrah, one of the SDP Resident Co- Chairs, raised questions of transparency, reminding everyone that the City communicated a call for proposals in the amount of $500,000 dollars, and not a call for proposals for 1 million dollars! In response, Jenifer Hoffman indicated that she did not see any negative consequences to the decision as more community groups would be funded, including groups involved in the SDP.
Ismail argued that if community members had known that this was the City plan, more members would have made submissions.
At the meeting, Walied Khogalli, a resident and co-chair of the community building working group, forcibly argued that there was an expectation to consult with the SDP. City staff cannot make decisions unilaterally. Oleg again indicated that there was no broken promises.
Walied continued to press his point asking Oleg to show him a public document that the City or the SDP committed to a million dollars.
Gail, a resident member of the SDP, wanted to know what the City’s idea of collaboration is? She indicated that she was tired of fighting with the City in meetings after meeting.
The meeting ended without any clear resolution between the City and the SDP on whether or not City staff had the right to unilaterally make decisions without consultation with the SDP on funds earmarked by City Council for the SDP.
For most members of the SDP, the decision to allocate 2023 funding without consultation with the SDP was a clear violation of City Council’s directive to consult with the SDP around the social development funds.
One thing that did come out through this conflict is that it’s now perfectly clear that the City and the SDP Planning Committee hold two very different views on the purposes of the SDP funding, as well as to: Who the SDP funds are accountable to? What transparency means? What is conflict of interest?; and what partnership and collaboration means?
It remains to be seen how the City Staff and SDP will work together without a common understanding of these issues.
FOCUS Media Arts Centre (FOCUS) is a not-for-profit organization that was established in 1990 to counter negative media stereotypes of low income communities and provide relevant information to residents living in the Regent Park area and surrounding communities.
We seek to empower marginalized individuals and under represented communities to have a voice, through the use of professional training, mentorships and participatory based media practices that enable the sharing of stories, experiences and perspectives on relevant matters and issues. In brief our mandate is to empower marginalized individuals and under-serviced communities to have a voice and tell their own stories.