City Job Was Elizabeth Versace’s First Grant Writing Job
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – Should Desert Hot Springs award a contract to an experienced grant writing company or award the contract to a company with no prior grant writing experience? In late 2009 the city council decided that question by awarding the $85,000 annual contract to an inexperienced company.
Three years later that company has come back to the council with a request for a 35% increase in the contract amount, bringing that contract’s annual amount to $115,000 per year.
That new amount is greater than the three other experienced companies had originally bid, give or take a few dollars
All that became a point of contention at last Tuesday’s council meeting with two council members saying the grant writing contract should go out for a new round of bidding. They lost. By a three vote majority, the decision was to award the contract increase.
“I’m not happy with a contractor low-balling a proposal only to come back later and ask for more money,” said Councilman Russell Betts.
The Grant Factory’s contract would run through the end of the year. The single employee of The Grant Facory is Elizabeth Versace, a former city planning commissioner.
City Relying on Grants
During the city’s mid-year budget review grants were identified as critical to helping the city get over its current budget problem. City Fincance Director Terrance Beeman included grants as one critical area of needed city focus. (Staff Report on Grant Factory)
The proposals from three years ago included firms that had decades of grant writing experience. Elizabeth Versace admitted in her proposal that she had no previous experience writing grants. The owner and operator of The Grant Factory never worked for any public agency or municipality; previous work was exclusively in the private sector.
Councilman Scott Matas acknowledged Elizabeth Versace had no prior experience and said ”in her first stab at grant writing she brought in $15 million, I think this is worth it.”
Betts replied that six or seven people came before the city council claiming responsibility for bringing in those grants including City economic development consultant Michael Bracken and also the former curator at Cabot’s Museum who took credit for bringing in grants.
Although some very qualified grant writing companies applied, they did not win the contract and the debate at the meeting was not about the grants that were obtained.
“The central issue is how much better could we do with an experienced grant writer. What’s out there we do not know. Something got missed. My mind is made up we can do better with the money we have budgeted.”
said Councilman Russell Betts.
Professional Experienced Applicants Rejected
One proposal was 83 pages, illustrating winning grant proposals, identifying highly qualified grant writers on staff with impressive academic credentials and government contacts. Two other competing proposals prove the applicants had established themselves as experienced and successful grants writers.
Instead…the city chose a one-person company with no previous experience in grant writing. Elizabeth Versace started up her grant writing company at the time the city solicited proposals.
“The city has been paying for on-the-job-training when it could have had people working on grant writing who have done grant writing all their lives.
“This grant writer has got us $15.5 million in grants.” said Mayor Yvonne Parks. “So this grant writer, even though allegedly having no experience, has done a fantastic job.” (Grant Summary Report illustrating $3.5 million are “pending”)
Two Questions Remain
1. Is the city getting the best they can get for the money they are paying?
2. How much more money could the city have acquired with an experienced grant writer?
With The Grant Factory wanting $30,000 more per year and putting an inexperienced grant writer into an income bracket of $117,000 a year dollars a year, these two questions were discussed by the city council. (The Grant Factory contract extension)
“When I was doing this full time in my career,” said Councilman Russell Betts, “We put something out to bid, somebody comes in 30% under you wonder OK whats going on here, they come in with the lowest quote then later on they come along when they got the business they raise the price back up to what everybody else said was needed to do the job.”
A motion was made by Councilman Russell Betts to reject the staff proposal and send the matter back to an RFP. Councilman Adam Sanchez seconded the motion and expressed a number of concerns regarding the budget situation, saying the city faced big-time trouble and he was uncomfortable spending more money that was not budgeted.
“We had a low-ball bid that excluded more qualified companies,” said Councilman Russell Betts who explained there was an exit clause in the 3-year contract that allowed the city the opportunity to explore options.
The final vote was a familiar split of 3-2 with council members Betts and Sanchez voting no. Mayor Yvonne Parks joined with council members Matas and Jan Pye approving the additional expenditure.
Response To RFP for Grant Writing: