Legislator Barnhart Creates ARPA Tracker After Transparency Bill Blocked

The President of the Legislature has rejected Vice-President Mercedes Vazquez-Simmons and Legislator Rachel Barnhart’s legislation to require County Executive Bello to submit regular reports to the legislature regarding American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The legislation would have required regular reports on award balances, compliance reports, audits and more. 

In response, Legislator Barnhart created this ARPA Tracker spreadsheet. Such a user-friendly tool does not exist on the County website. Legislator’s Barnhart tracker, however, suffers from limitations of not being provided information that the reporting bill would have mandated.

President Yversha Roman called the legislation legally insufficient, saying legislators cannot direct the County Executive to require these reports. This is a gross misreading of the County Charter’s non-interference clause, and ignores the numerous places in the charter stipulating legislators can require information needed to do their jobs.

“It’s disappointing that President Roman is joining the Bello administration’s efforts to control what it tells the Legislature – and the public – about ARPA and when,” said Vice-President Mercedes Vazquez-Simmons. “Every single person in Monroe County should be able to easily look up what we have remaining to authorize for new spending initiatives.”

“Make no mistake – this bill would have passed had it gone to the floor,” said Legislator Barnhart. “County Executive Bello absolutely did not want that to happen. He has a pattern of playing cat and mouse with the legislature over ARPA.”

The Legislature had to threaten County Executive Bello with subpoenas following the Community Resource Collaborative scandal, forcing him to provide information about the ARPA program. Since then, legislators have to beg for information.  For example, in a May 17 letter to the Legislature in response to reasonable and important questions from Legislators Vazquez-Simmons, Barnhart and Tracy DiFlorio (read letters here), In a May 17 letter to the Legislature, Bello’s administration said they would not comply with “arbitrary” deadlines set by legislators, chastised us for taking up staff time, and falsely claimed we sought information already publicly available. It took a month to finally answer our letters – without providing all of the details requested.

“Information regarding Monroe County’s ARPA program has been treated like a state secret,” said Legislator Barnhart. “County Executive Bello took office vowing transparency, but he’s turning into one of the least transparent leaders I’ve ever covered as a reporter or dealt with as a legislator. He resorts to personal attacks on legislators as reasons why he won’t answer basic questions. That’s always a sign something is deeply wrong and we have to keep going.”

The County faces an end-of-year deadline to obligate ARPA funds. Legislator Barnhart created an ARPA spreadsheet tracker that shows at least $21 million remaining to be allocated or reallocated, potentially much more. We have $11.3 million that has not been allocated, but we have some projects that may not move forward, and others that have ended without using the entire award.

“Legislators need this information to do their jobs. If this was Brooks or Dinoflo behaving this way, Democrats would be screaming from the rooftops,” said Legislator Barnhart. “As Agenda Charter Chair, I will make it a priority to fix the Monroe County Charter to preclude these ridiculous interpretations by Bello’s attorney of what we can require from the executive branch. ”

“The public trust is lost when information is hidden,” said Vice-President Vazquez-Simmons. “President Roman says she’ll ask the administration to make the information public. But we need more than that. We need a complete culture change – and it could have started with this bill.”