Layton consultant hired to help craft Weber County anti-poverty plan

Monday , May 21, 2018 - 5:15 AM1 comment

OGDEN — After more than a year of study and deliberation, a new initiative aimed at helping the poorest people in Weber County should be taking shape.

Still, the development — amid heightened scrutiny by some of Weber County government’s use of outside contractors and consultants — doesn’t come without a measure of controversy.

Weber County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to a $60,000 one-year contract with LSI Business Development of Layton, renewable for up to two times, to help craft an anti-poverty initiative. Per the decision, LSI is to create a pilot program by July 1 to help perhaps 50 low-income families mired in intergenerational poverty and to implement it by Jan. 1, 2019.

Use of outside consultants to aid the county has become a touchy subject — County Commissioner Kerry Gibson expressed reservations about the LSI proposal when first publicly discussed on May 8 — but in the end, the three commissioners approved the accord with the firm. County officials contracted with two other consultants in late 2016 to aid in efforts to get a handle on the poverty problem, despite Gibson’s opposition, and two other volunteer bodies took shape to advise the county.

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Now with LSI, a specific plan will be coming together, bringing anti-poverty efforts here to a new level, potentially. Helping kids in poorer families would likely be a particular focus, tapping existing groups here that aid those in poverty and improving cooperation and communication between them.

“We’re finally putting it in gear, so to speak,” said Commissioner James Ebert, a big motor behind the push to fight intergenerational poverty, part of a larger state-led push.

Even so, Gibson, while supportive of efforts to fight poverty, has expressed reservations about contracting with outside consultants, wondering whether the money spent yields results. Per his concerns, the LSI contract was tweaked to give commissioners authority to review LSI’s efforts after the first and second years of service, if applicable, before agreeing to re-hire the firm.

And Jeremy Botelho, executive director of Cottages of Hope, questioned the selection of LSI, saying the group doesn’t have sufficient experience with those in poverty. He also questioned use of LSI, as a for-profit company, in connection with an initiative commonly handled by non-profit groups, aiding the poor.

LSI is more focused on helping the private sector get government contracts, Botelho said. “They’re a for-profit company and they’re providing non-profit services in areas they have no expertise,” he said.

Cottages of Hope, an Ogden-based non-profit, would potentially be a better fit to handle the work, he thinks, because of the organization’s experience working with those living in intergenerational poverty. However, he was unaware the county had been seeking proposals — the request for proposals on the anti-poverty initiative went out last December — and LSI was the only firm to submit a plan.

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Melissa Freigang, vice president of social innovation and workforce initiatives for LSI, defended LSI’s involvement, noting its job training and job placement initiatives, some in conjunction with Cottages of Hope. The group, she said, will be focused on working with existing organizations that help the poor to better coordinate their offerings and make sure the public knows where they can get assistance.

LSI went through an open bidding process, Freigang said, and she countered the criticism based on LSI’s for-profit status. “I think it takes an entire ecosystem,” she said. “We can’t just point the finger at the non-profits and say, ‘Fix it.’”

Ebert, more broadly, defended the use of outside contractors and consultants, saying they have specific expertise that county employees don’t always have. “For what we’re paying, it’s a tremendous deal,” he said of the LSI accord.

State lawmakers allocated $1 million in the 2018 legislative session to aid Utah counties in efforts to fight intergenerational poverty, and LSI will help craft Weber County’s proposal to tap into the money. Proposals for part of the $1 million are to be submitted sometime after July 1, according to Ebert.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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