On September 15, 2010, Commissioners Ziffer, Lightsey, and Gillum joined forces with Mayor John Marks to approve the city’s participation in a $1.6 million federal grant with partners that included the Alliance for Digital Equality (ADE) and The Go Beyond Foundation.
The federal grant won by the city of Tallahassee was part of a program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with the goal to expand access to broadband services in the United States. The federal government provided $4.7 billion to NTIA to establish the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to increase broadband access and adoption; provide broadband training and support to schools, libraries, healthcare providers, and other organizations; improve broadband access to public safety agencies; and stimulate demand for broadband.
The federal grant was secured by an application written and submitted to the NTIA by Carrie Blanchard, on March 13, 2010. At the time, she was the chief aide to Mayor John Marks.
After talking to sources, it has been determined that several documents have been turned over to the FBI because of concern about the relationship between Mayor John Marks and the vendors included in the grant application.
Sources indicate there are primarily three concerns. First it appears that the two vendors, Alliance Digital for Equality and Go Beyond were included in the grant application, which originated in the Mayor’s office, without a competitive bid process.
Second, Mayor Marks serves on the board of Alliance Digital for Equality and has received approximately $66,000 in compensation since 2007. And finally, Mayor Marks, on September 15, 2010, voted to partner with ADE without abstaining or disclosing his financial relationship with ADE.
On September 16, 2010 John Marks accepted the federal grant by signing a US Department of Commerce document that obligated the signer to follow specific federal rules. The federal rules the Mayor agreed to follow address how vendors are selected and the existence of potential conflicts of interest.
The federal rules state “all procurement transactions will be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition.” Sources indicate that no open competition existed for the awards given to Go Beyond and ADE. A search of Commission records revealed no evidence of a request for proposal addressing the program.
With regard to conflicts of interest, federal rules state the following:
“No employee, officer or agent of the grantee…shall participate in selection, or in the award or administration of a contract supported by Federal funds if a conflict of interest, real or apparent, would be involved. Such a conflict would arise when the employee, officer or agent….has a financial or other interest in the firm selected for award.”
Federal tax filings list Mayor Marks as an Alliance for Digital Equality board member and show that Mayor Marks was paid $19,000 in 2007, $24,000 in 2008 and $23,000 in 2009. The Alliance for Digital Equality website currently lists Mayor Marks as a member of their board of advisors. Sources tell Tallahassee Reports that Mayor Marks did receive payments from ADE in 2010.
Tallahassee Reports will post supporting documents related to this story on March 29th at 4:00 pm.
UPDATE: 1:20PM EST
More on this can be seen in a video posted on WCTV. Watch it here.