Aurora City Council members discuss an expansion of city homelessness offerings, creating a center with additional kinds of housing. SENTINEL SCREEN GRAB

AURORA | After months of debate over how the city vetted applicants for a grant program, Aurora’s City Council on Monday approved 14 nonprofits to receive funding, while rejecting or postponing votes on several others.

Council members voted to fund the $2.5 million program through the federal American Rescue Plan Act last January. Proposals included a variety of assistance for small businesses, older adults, health care programs, Aurora students and others.

Conservatives Curtis Gardner and Francoise Bergan in November convinced their colleagues to postpone a scheduled vote on the list of grant applicants, which deputy city manager Roberto Venegas had said were vetted by a third-party auditor as well as city staffers from multiple departments.

On Monday, the two said they were still uncomfortable with the lack of detail offered in the program budgets turned over by city staffers. For the most part, they declined to describe their concerns with the individual proposals removed from a consent vote, mostly by Bergan.

Bergan also said she was worried about how much of the grant funds were being spent on staffing costs and salaries.

“I take it very seriously, my obligation to the public, making sure their taxpayer monies are being used responsibly,” she said. “I’m not saying that these that I pulled are not necessarily good organizations, I just found them troubling in terms of the information I found.”

While Councilmember Alison Coombs pointed out that it would make sense for organizations that focus on education to be investing a large amount of funds in teachers and other skilled staff, Bergan said she considered that when singling out the proposals.

Arguing that it was unfair for the city to be introducing what seemed like new criteria after the grant program had closed, Councilmember Crystal Murillo said she was not comfortable rejecting the groups that Bergan had singled out.

“I think it’s a pretty common thing to write into grants the cost of your staff,” Murillo said. “There’s a reason why we have a standardized criteria and we follow processes, and for that to change really makes me uncomfortable.”

In total, 13 organizations were approved to receive the recommended grant amounts, including:

  • Tigray Ethiopian Community Association in Colorado —  $250,000 to support Tigrayans fleeing violence in Ethiopia by constructing a community center that would include retail storefronts, classrooms, a gym and community space.
  • DAWN — $227,567 to purchase medical equipment and hire consultants that will help the organization develop standard operating procedures. 
  • Mi Casa Resource Center — $152,905 to support small business owners through services such as business consulting and legal support.
  • A Little Help —  $85,000 to support the organization’s outreach work to older adults.
  • African Chamber of Commerce Colorado USA — $75,000 to support the chamber’s Technical Assistance program for small businesses.
  • Rocky Mountain Youth Medical and Nursing Consultants — $75,000 to fight clinician burnout by having professional medical scribes handle some administrative tasks.
  • Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado —  $50,000 to support the organization’s program at Aurora Central High School to support students in poverty and prepare them for college.
  • Colorado Alliance for Health Equity and Practice — $50,000 to offer mobile physical and mental health care with the help of a specially-equipped van.
  • Community Enterprise Development Services — $50,000 to renovate the organization’s office building and make it more feasible for them to help clients and conduct training.
  • Aurora Community Connection — $40,000 to provide dance and martial arts classes for Aurora youth.
  • Brothers Redevelopment Inc. — $30,000 to purchase at least one vehicle to help provide home renovations and painting services for elderly homeowners in Aurora.
  • Aurora Public Schools Foundation — $25,000 to provide free school supplies to Aurora Public Schools educators.
  • Downtown Aurora Visual Arts — $25,000 to support HVAC repairs and boiler work in the organization’s Community Art Center.

Although Bergan said she was concerned about the East Colfax Community Collective being based in Denver and running initiatives that she described as “political,” Bergan offered the group $150,000 rather than the $313,598 approved by staff rather than reject the grant proposal completely after several members of the public spoke in favor of the group. The compromise was accepted by the rest of the council.

Other applicants — the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center, RISE Colorado and You be You Early Learning — were rejected by the council, with progressives voting in favor and conservatives opposed. Grants for New American College and Mosaic Unlimited Inc. failed on a tie vote with Gardner joining the progressives in support.

A motion to vote on the proposed grant for Caring Voices was not seconded, and grants for Aurora Interchurch Task Force Inc. and Issues of Life Church Ministries Aurora were not moved at all, meaning they were not voted on.

Finally, the council voted 9-1 to postpone a vote on a $250,000 grant for the Metro Community Provider Network, as Coombs said she wanted to know whether the organization plans on closing clinics in the near future.

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  1. It looks like to me the city council majority supported legitimate refugees, medical & health care, small businesses (greatly impacted by COVID), impoverished students & youth, community development, and even the arts. They rejected subsidizing churches and sketchy, politically motivated non-profits.

    Thank God council members Bergan and Gardner are paying attention. Seems the leftists never met a tax they didn’t want to impose or a dollar they didn’t want to spend.

  2. Hello, Sentinel Editorial Board, will you be publishing my comment soon or are you waiting for everyone to move on?

    1. They haven’t approved all of mine, either. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but it’s possible that it might not be about YOU.

  3. Thank you Councilmembers Bergen and Gardner for slowing down the socialists on Council attempts to grab more and more and more of our money. That’s the socialists trick. Start non profits, then fund them to advance their own political agendas.

    Many of we citizens of Aurora are out here aware of these socialist agendas and are doing everything possible to stop the spread of socialism in our City.

  4. Not all no profits are created equally. Some non profits are more equal in Aurora and  carry more council weight than others.
    For those paying attention we saw some fair  and simple questions asked about a non- profit  asking for a grant of $500K and the  $400 K salary paid to Aurora Economic Development  Council CEO  by Ward 4 council man Juan Marcano. When asked, The CEO refused to answer Marcano’s straight forward question. Talk about transparency of non-profits anyone?  
    We saw Medina disqualify  himself for voting for non-profit  grant city money  for potential conflict of  because he sits on the board of directors of that  non-profit.

    For some odd reason, and unlike Medina,   we saw the $500K grant easily pass  to accept  the  AEDC agreement. It was  voted on to be time-honored  by Aurora council with seven of our council voting on this, and also active on the AEDC board of directors. At that time unknown to the others sitting at the city hall dias. Thus, no debate about potential conflict of interest.

    The obvious question here are the anticipated  fiduciary duties of politicians to taxpayers  and where that line is crossed. This ethical conundrum for the seven to have moved to recuse themselves, the ordinance would have very  likely failed, leaving the AEDC $1.5 million short over the next three years.

    1. Show me one other non-profit that returned 80x (recall something of this nature) in revenue back to the city. The ones rejected seemed either partisan shell organizations or churches or woefully managed or all of the above.

      Also, you might want to educate yourself rather than compare apples and oranges. 501c3 organizations must serve the public. 501c6 organizations (such as AEDC) are formed to serve their members

      1. If AEDC serves their members, their members can pay the executive’s $500k salary then. If AEDC is funded by taxpayer dollars, it should serve the taxpayers.

        1. Firstly, Aurora taxpayers pay a very small portion of AEDC funding (I want to say less than 20%).

          They return, as previously mentioned, an ROI that I only dream my personal portfolio would yield. You should consider yourself lucky they create city revenue that you benefit from in amenities.

          1. Show me the report that proves this “yield” benefits the taxpayers? You can’t because they won’t allow an audit. What “yeild” are they bringing into Aurora, besides all the campaign funds they donate to Coffman and Zvonek? A few high-risk, minimum wage jobs and employers who get sweet tax exemptions from Jurinsky and Gardner? Tell me how that benefits me and my neighbors, Blaze.

          2. Or perhaps they are totally redundant to the city’s internal offices of development assistance and small business assistance and they take credit for the work of others and the general growth of the region which might well happen whether they exist or not. The AEDC is dollars spent without oversight or accountability. At best it is unsupervised lobbying and marketing on behalf of the city, though it may simply be marketing on behalf of a favored few.

          3. The role of AEDC is entirely different than that of the internal function. AEDC is charged with bringing companies to the city whereas internal departments are responsible for the things such as the assistance you mentioned. In fishing terms, one casts the wide net and hauls in the catch and the other processes it.

            Without AEDC, the city would be starved. Simple.

          4. I don’t quite understand what you think Aurora has going for it that sells itself. I highly doubt companies are knocking down its doors to come here. It needs external marketing.

          5. I thought that was done by the communications division.

            As for what sells Aurora, land, water, proximity to transportation.

          6. Notice how Blaze starts ducking my questions when they require proof and facts? Just like the AEDC. Are they donating to your campaign, too? Ever been on a yacht trip sponsored by AEDC, Blaze?

          7. All of these tax supported businesses are asking the city for money. The city is supposedly the gate keeper of the funds? We are seeing some crack down by some on council asking the city staff what is your vetting exam that you really looking for? Not much!
            Aurora’s vetting  is akin to the SEC   investigating Bernie Madoff  eight separate times and each time they were so incompetent they failed to see his enormous  Ponzi scheme. And here we see the city perhaps just as a sleep as was the SEC.

            Who took the hit? Trusting taxpayers expecting the Government to do their job.      

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