Legislator questions grants worth $500,000 to Steele ad firm | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Legislator questions grants worth $500,000 to Steele ad firm

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 4:35 PM

click to enlarge GRANT RECIPIENT: Michael Steele has landed a big contract from a state agency where his brother, former Sen. Tracy Steele is now a division head. Questions arose on the work in a legislative committee today.
  • GRANT RECIPIENT: Michael Steele has landed a big contract from a state agency where his brother, former Sen. Tracy Steele is now a division head. Questions arose on the work in a legislative committee today.
Legislators meeting in committee today raised questions about the advertising budget enmeshed in grants that the Department of Human Services’ behavioral health division has awarded to address teenage drinking and prescription drug use.

Though no one said so outright, the issue was Advantage Communications, a company owned by Michael Steele, former Sen. Tracy Steele’s brother. It reaps a windfall from the grants, to be awarded over five years. Michael Steele’s company will receive nearly half the grants awarded to a prevention services program ($22,500 a year out of each of 17 $40,000 grants) and a third of the grants awarded to a youth leadership program ($5,000 a year out of 30 $15,000 grants).

The grants were funded by a federal grant of $1,766,772 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; only the $15,000 grants were on the Arkansas Legislative Council’s review subcommittee agenda today and were the only item on the agenda save one that legislators had questions about.

Rep. John Burris asked the DBHS program manager Sharron Mims how the $15,000 was divvied up, and she responded with a description of what the grant would do. Both Burris and Mims knew, no doubt, that Burris wanted her to acknowledge that a contract with Advantage Communications was a required expenditure for each grantee, but there was a lot of tap dancing instead. Mims maintained she did not know who the principal figure at Advantage Communications was, and said the company was selected for all the grants because DHBS liked the job it did on the Health Department’s Stamp Out Smoking campaign and it wanted the advertising to be uniform. Steele’s name never came up.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, however, didn’t pussyfoot around when it came her time to speak. She said Advantage Communications was “one of the best African-American advertising companies in the state” and that by advertising the grant did not mean TV and radio ads, but could include such things as hiring someone to pass out informational flyers at churches and printing the flyers. (After the meeting, Burris said Chesterfield's position underscored his point, wondering why professional services were needed. However, he said the issue was "no big deal," though he characterized it as a "silly government contract I wouldn't do if I was in charge.")

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams wanted to know if the programs had been evaluated and were doing what they were supposed to do. Mims said there were previous programs funded through SAMHSA, but the grants at issue were new. She said all had to do with “environmental strategies,” a “strategic planning process,” “capacity building” and “logic models,” and if there was an answer in there to how well the SAMHSA grants worked I didn’t catch it.

Melissa Pettus of Pulaski County Youth Services told me earlier today that her agency has been awarded both grants. The youth leadership grant is for teenagers in 9th to 12th grades; the prevention program is for kids in 6th through 8th grades. The younger kids will be a feeder group for the older group, and they will create the advertisement campaigns themselves, designing billboards and murals and the like. One of the projects the groups will spread the word on will be “drug take-back days” with local law enforcement, to get unused prescription drugs out of the house and disposed. Getting the warning out about alcohol and drug abuse via advertising is “what they [the grantmakers] want us to focus on mainly,” Pettus said.

For the first year the grants are issued, Advantage Communications’ take will be $532,000. Tracy Steele now works as director of DHS' division of youth services, but the decision to use his brother's company for work in a different DHS division came before his work for DHS. 

That other question raised in the committee: Burris wanted to know why it would cost $110,000 to hire "expert services" to recruit the next chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Monticello. U of A System President Don Bobbitt said national search companies knew the candidate pool, and that the money also paid for travel and lodging of candidates to be interviewed.

Tags: , , , ,


Sign up for the Daily Update email
Favorite

Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Philip Mann to leave symphony after 2018-19 season

    The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra announced in a press release today that the next season of the symphony will be Maestro Philip Mann's last. The ASO will give Mann the title of "Music Director Laureate" and hopes that "Mann will be able to continue his highly successful relationship with the ASO as he grows his international conducting presence and broadens his role within classical music."
    • May 24, 2018
  • 'The Beyond,' works by O'Keeffe and others, to open at Crystal Bridges

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art goes above and into "The Beyond" with an exhibition of 36 works by Georgia O'Keeffe spanning her career and works by contemporary artists whose sensibilities hearken to O'Keeffe's. The show opens Saturday, May 26.
    • May 24, 2018
  • The Delta Exhibition opens at the Arts Center

    Plus, much more.
    • May 24, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • The inspiring Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton's campaign for president illustrates again the double standard applied to women. Some writers get it. They even find the supposedly unlikable Clinton inspiring.
    • Oct 16, 2016
  • Rep. Mary Bentley's website now supports gay rights

    Somebody has cybersquatted on Republican Rep. Mary Bentley's website, replacing her messaging with a call for equal rights for LGBTQ people.
    • Jul 18, 2017
  • UPDATE: Hutchinson moves to cover himself on cut to War Memorial Stadium

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson apparently felt the burn from KARK's exclusive Tuesday night on his plans to cut state support of War Memorial Stadium in half beginning July 1, 2018. He has a so-far secret plan to make the stadium self-sustaining. We bet that doesn't include state support.
    • Oct 20, 2016

Most Recent Comments

Slideshows

 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation