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Brother, can you spare a BlackBerry?

City Hall spares no expense to fight poverty. At least when it comes to the care and feeding of its bureaucracy.

For years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been grousing about the degree to which City Hall uses block grant funds to pay the salaries and benefits of city employees, including those in the two major economic development agencies.

It turns out that over the past few years, the anti-poverty funds have also paid for BlackBerrys issued to 15 employees of the agencies.

BlackberryFor the uninitiated, BlackBerrys and iPhones are the Cadillacs of the cell phone family. They do a lot more than cell phones. In the case of BlackBerrys, which are used more for business purposes, they enable users to, among other things, send and receive e-mail and access the Internet. For a more detailed description, go here.

No doubt they're nifty gizmos. The question is whether so many economic development bureaucrats need them. Rochester and Syracuse somehow get by without them. 

To his credit, Brian Reilly, the city's economic development czar, has cut the cost of the service since coming on board. And I don't doubt his contention that BlackBerrys make some employees more productive, although I think the head of the city's white-collar union might be interested to know that some of his members are working unpaid overtime to send out and receive hundreds of e-mails.

But the question remains: Is spending up to $30,000 a year a good use of anti-poverty funds?

Delaware District Council Member Mike LoCurto, who heads the committee that reviews the block grant budget submitted by Mayor Byron Brown, thinks it is not.

"It's not the way that money should be spent," he said. "We're the third-poorest city of our size in the nation and there's too much (block grant) money spent on administration. That money should be on
the street."

Oh, it's in the street, Mike. Just happens to be in the purse or pocket of city employees making the rounds.

LoCurto also isn't happy that the Brown administration didn't respond to a sweeping block grant information request the Council made until members voted March 13 to approve the latest budget. Included in the stack of documents was the list of who receives Blackberrys and cell phones. I obtained the list, had a hunch that the BlackBerrys were paid for with block grant funds, and started asking questions.


LoCurto acknowledges it's too late for the Council to do anything about the BlackBerry budget for this year. But the city's block grant spending program still has to pass muster with HUD. Perhaps the feds will take out the eraser. HUD certainly has found enough other fault with the way the city is running the program.


City Hall | Poverty
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