Contract with grant firm collapses due to inaction

Published 9:22 am Wednesday, April 29, 2020

In October of last year, the Selma City Council approved a $60,000 contract with the Montgomery-based company Azimuth, which provides full-service grant work to municipalities to great effect, in the hopes of securing much-needed funding for technology, equipment and more.

The contract with Azimuth arose after Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson attended a training conference in October 2018, in which representatives from the Alabama League of Municipalities recommended the company’s services for municipalities looking for grant support.

“I immediately thought this would be a great investment opportunity for the City of Selma,” Jackson said. “Jessica [Taylor], the Founder and CEO, came and spoke before the council and they too saw the potential benefits of investing in their services.”

As of last week’s council meeting, the contract was terminated and the company unable to secure, or even apply for, any grants on behalf of the city – at least one payment of more than $7,300 has already gone out to the company and another bill is on the horizon.

However, council members have reported that the collapse of the contract was not the fault of the company, but the fault of the city, which failed to act on information requests needed for the company’s first grant effort on the city’s behalf – a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to benefit the Selma Fire Department (SFD).

In a February council meeting, SFD Chief Chris Graham said as much, telling the council that he was unable to send or receive faxes or emails and had been unable to submit the needed information to the company.

According to Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas, the city’s Information Technology (IT) Department, which manages systems for the SFD and the Selma Police Department (SPD), was supposed to have a system set up where the department could access and transfer such information.

“The city IT Department is connected to everything the police chief and fire chief do,” Thomas said. “But they don’t have the system set up where they can do what they need to do. Chief Graham was trying, but he couldn’t do it.”

In a November 2019 report, Azimuth identified two other grants to be pursues on the city’s behalf – one from Publix Supermarket Charities, which would have gone toward resurfacing the track at the stadium, and one from Walmart, which also would have gone toward refurbishing the track, as well as toward new fire trucks.

The termination of the contract followed an email from Taylor, who noted that her staff had “worked diligently,” despite having not received a payment since last fall.

According to the email, the company was in the process of preparing and submitting “two very important federal applications for [the city’s] fire department,” which would have “provided much-needed support,” but a request to city staff for access to the city’s portal was never responded to.

“Sadly, nobody was able to obtain access in time to submit either application,” Taylor said in the email. “This is not a difficult task. We do this weekly for clients, but the IT people could never obtain their login information.”

The email goes on to note that documentation of that event, in addition to “others that impeded [the company’s] ability to work together,” will be forwarded with the final invoice.

“As much as we want to help Selma, we cannot work under these conditions,” Taylor continued in her email. “We have an impressive track record of success with our clients – we helped the Montgomery City-County Public Library get $500,000 just last week. However, we cannot help the City of Selma at this time for the reasons stated above.”

For Jackson, the contract’s termination represents the loss of an investment and the potential for further harm down the road.

“The email from Azimuth terminating their agreement is a tremendous loss for the City of Selma,” Jackson said. “There are a number of grants that Azimuth could have prepared and submitted on our behalf. In addition, the economic hardship that is expected to befall our community may have been offset by some grant awards. These things will never be known or explored because of this administration’s shortsightedness and apathy.”