While businesses all across Kansas are struggling to stay afloat, officials in Allen County diverted over $99,000 of the $2.4 million it was allocated for COVID relief to have Thrive Allen County process paperwork for the county. It’s unknown why county staff couldn’t handle it themselves, although County Clerk Sherrie Riebel said when initially contacted by phone that Thrive was hired because she “didn’t have time,” to oversee the grant. Even so, bids submitted on a related project indicate that county commissioners may have been able to hire another firm at a lower cost.
The Sentinel began this investigation with a tip from a whistleblower who read our story about a similar occurrence in Osage County.
Allen County officials initially failed to respond to our Open Records request and only partially complied when pressed; they also have declined to answer questions regarding the naming of Thrive Allen County to administer two COVID-19-related funding programs.
Allen County was awarded $2.4 million in Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas funding this summer and hired Thrive Allen County to process applications without putting the project out for bid. According to Riebel, commissioners had just received bids on a Community Development Block Grant project and made their decision based on those bids.
“So far as grant RFP we had just did (sic.) that for a CDBG-CV grant so the commission just piggy backed (sic.) on it for the SPARKS funding,” Riebel wrote in an email.
Wichita-based Ranson Financial Services submitted a seven-page proposal, including multiple references and the names and history of the employees who would be involved, for a price of $15,000.
The Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, whose territory includes Allen County, submitted a five-page proposal with everything requested in the RFP, along with the low bid of just $6,600.
The minutes of the June 16 Allen County Commissioner meeting show commissioners acknowledged the qualifications of Ranson and SEKRPC. But Commissioner Jeff Daniels stated, “with the spirit of local purchase and local efforts within the county it’s obvious that Commissioners should probably seriously consider Thrive Allen County.” The minutes don’t mention the fact that Thrive Allen County didn’t submit a proper response to the Request for Proposal.
Big payday for Thrive Allen County
According to the contract, Thrive was to be paid fees “… not exceed 4% of allocated funds,” and would present an invoice for 80% of the total fees to be paid by August 15, 2020, with the remainder due by December 15, 2020.
That invoice shows that the initial payment was $79,433.06, with an additional $19,858.26 due in December, bringing the total to $99,291.32.
As of this writing, Allen County officials have declined to say how they decided to give Thrive Allen County a 4% commission for processing paperwork.