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Grant process needs work

Medford's system of funding nonprofits appears less than fair

Nonprofit groups looking for a piece of the &

36;700,000 in grants the city of Medford has to give each year should expect to work hard for the money.

In return, they should have a clear, fair, consistent experience with the city.

It's been less than that this spring, when the City Council stepped in to override a grant subcommittee's decision and give money to several groups whose leaders protested when they were denied funding. The council's action angered others, who are complaining the process is unfair.

It seems clear that it is. Some council members say they felt they had to step in and overrule the grant subcommittee when they developed concerns about the way it was working. But in their attempt to right wrongs, they created new wrongs elsewhere.

Thirty-two groups applied for the city's money this year, asking for more than double the amount the city had to give. In a hard economy for nonprofit groups, just about everyone can make a compelling case for need. Even in good times, deciding who gets what is an unenviable task.

— That makes the demanding application process necessary. Medford's grant applicants are ranked on an 80-point scale using a variety of criteria, with 40 points to be given by city staff and 40 by grants subcommittee members. The groups with the most points at the end of the process are supposed to get the money.

The council, of course, has every right to look at the committee's work and rework it, as it did this year. But it can't do that very often without destroying the fairness the process is intended to protect.

The process should be solid enough that leaders of nonprofits won't figure they can run to the council for relief when they don't get an answer they like from the group charged with making decisions.

Council members should address the problems they have with the subcommittee now so it can go about its business without fear of being second-guessed.