Discussion about a $20,000 budget item in a $1.9 million sales tax budget became somewhat heated Tuesday night during a Monticello City Council meeting.
Concerns about whether the Drew County Boys & Girls Club is providing the services it is contracted to provide, led to a heated exchange between District Court Judge Ken Harper and Monticello Mayor Allen Maxwell.
Each year, the city enters into a contract with the Boys & Girls Club to provide activities and character-building programs for area youth. However, Maxwell said he received notice from several people who said the organization is not functioning as it should.
Several Boys & Girls Club volunteers then outlined the measures they are undertaking to improve the program.
“I think it would be prudent for the Boys & Girls Club to provide the city some information on what happened last year,” Maxwell said. “I’ve had a number of people come up here and visit with me and basically they’re saying the Boys & Girls Club is not doing what they’re supposed to do. I’ve had those discussions with a number of people (including) former students of the Boys & Girls Club who had nothing good to say about what was going on. Basically, they told me they were just allowed to run wild most of the day.”
Harper, who has been involved with the program for 17 years, said the Boys & Girls Club has done what it said it would do.
“Just because someone comes to you and complains doesn’t mean we’re wrong…,” Harper said. “If you want to show us how we’re wrong, then come on by and do it.”
Harper said the Boys and Girls Club has provided services to the city for 10 years and will continue to do so.
“We’re going to work this thing out and make it work,” Harper said. “I need your support, not for me, not for me; there are a whole bunch of kids out there and they’re more important than what you think you are. We’ve got to work for these kids. We’ve got to provide a situation for these young kids to grow up in a town so they appreciate their home town so when they turn 18 they want to come back and that’s what we do at the Boys & Girls Club. I’ve been there 17 years and I’ve not made a penny off of them, not a penny. I’ve written more checks than you can image. We’ve got to have this club. We’ve got to have this club for these kids, for these parents. You guys have to stand up, stand up and support the Boys & Girls Club. If you want to apply the fault for the last 17 years you can it on blame me and that’s fine…. Mayor, if you’ve got a problem with the Boys & Girls Club, if you’ve got any specific problem with the Boys & Girls Club, you can come and see me. You know where I work. You’ve got my phone number. You come to see me. But don’t discourage…”
As Maxwell began to speak, Harper heatedly told Maxwell he wasn’t finished.
“I’m not finished!” he said, then continued his comments. “Don’t discourage the club by somebody who said something negative.”
During a brief exchange about conversations involving the former director, Harper said the former director told him that Maxwell said he wanted to cut the club out altogether.
“That’s a lie, Mr. Harper,” Maxwell responded.
Maxwell said the city has no desire to “get rid of” the club but it has to provide the services that it is contracted to provide.
“The city has no desire and I have no desire to get rid of the Boys & Girls Club,” Maxwell said. “But, the money we’re spending out there has to be spent in the right way and it has to be spent the way it’s supposed to be spent. And there has to be organizational continuity. And there’s got to be an organization that functions. The city is not going to put $30,000 into something that doesn’t function. And we don’t want to put $20,000 (into it) but the city, I’m sure, is willing to help in every way they can. But we’d like to know this thing is moving forward and the jobs are being done that should be done and the kids are getting what they need and what they deserve.”
Ray Carson, campus administrator at the Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Home for Children, told Maxwell that he is at the Boys & Girls Club nearly every day and what he has seen was very positive.
He said he has worked with children in various capacities for more than 25 years and is willing to volunteer his services to the club.
“I’m here to offer to help in any way that I can,” he said.
Because of funding cuts nationwide, the club is facing funding issues and is asking the parents of children who participate in the programs to pay a weekly fee of $10, according to Drew County Boys & Girls Club interim director Lee Carson.
Dr. Bettye Gragg, one of those who outlined measures the club is taking to improve the program, said the club will reapply for an AmeriCorps grant that was lost last year because some paperwork was not submitted, and will be glad to provide the city with detailed progress reports and other documentation.
Lee Carson said she truly believes that there are people in place, at this point, who are serious about the organization and willing to put into motion things that need to be put into motion.
“That’s encouraging,” Maxwell said.