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Menino, City Council launch stimulus oversight projects

St. John Barned-Smith

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston City Council each announced efforts Wednesday to ensure that the process of distributing the city’s share of the $787 billion federal stimulus package is as open and transparent as possible.

Menino announced the creation of a Web site that allows Boston residents to track the dissemination of funds given to the city by the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17.

The idea to create the new Web site,, grew out of a meeting that Menino and 75 other mayors had with President Obama, who stressed that the importance of transparency in distributing the federal stimulus money, according to mayoral press aide Nick Martin.

“We’re trying to keep funding descriptions as detailed as possible,” Martin said. “We’re really interested in making this as short a turnaround as possible, and we’re really interested in providing people with the most current information [about the process].”

According to the Web site, Boston has already been allocated $89.4 million in stimulus funding, with the bulk of the money going toward housing and transportation projects. Of that money, $12.9 million will be used for renovation projects along Dorchester Avenue, $21 million will go to citywide street paving and $5 million will go to traffic light upgrades.

The Boston Housing Authority will receive $33 million, $10 million of which will go toward renovating the Washington-Beech Housing Complex. The city’s Department of Neighborhood Development will receive $5.3 million for various projects, as well as $8.2 million in emergency shelter grants.

Rounding out the funding allocations, the Boston Police Department is also slated to receive $3.9 million through the federal Justice Assistant Grant program.

Working along the same lines, during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, council president Michael P. Ross formed the chamber’s Special Committee on Federal Stimulus Oversight.

“The federal stimulus funds present an opportunity for the City of Boston to create jobs and bring development to the city during the economic downturn,” Ross said in a statement. “By getting involved in the early stages of appropriating the funds, the council and the public can ensure that the money is spent in a way that will position Boston to emerge from the recession even stronger than before.”

In a later interview, Ross elaborated on his aims for the committee.

“Outside of the [city’s] operating budget, there will be capital funds, and that needs to be tracked as well,” Ross told the Banner. “There are also going to be general good-government reasons for why we want to pay attention to [an] unprecedented amount of funds coming into the city. It’s important that there’s a process in place.”

How the stimulus funds will be split has been a hot topic of late. The Banner on efforts by community organizers statewide to ensure that minority communities are involved in that distribution.

Horace Small, president of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, organized last week’s meeting at English High School in Jamaica Plain to discuss how the stimulus money might impact local minority communities. He applauded the city’s efforts to open up the funding process.

“It’s good that the mayor and council have wanted to be transparent,” he said.

However, Small added that he hopes the stimulus money and its resultant benefits will not go only to those who don’t actually need it.

“Are these jobs [created through stimulus funding] going to the building [and] construction trade, and to the people they usually go to?” Small asked. “Does transparency also mean that the mayor and governor and those folks are going to ensure that people of color with skills and women with skills are … going to be included, too?”

City Councilor-at-Large Stephen J. Murphy, who will chair the new oversight committee, said he hopes to dive into the fine print of the allocations and to “get to the bottom of what can we spend this money on.”

“There’s a question as to what’s earmarked and what isn’t,” Murphy said. “Can we use it only on capital projects, only for hiring? For operational needs?

“If we just sat idly by and waited for the things to come in and get sent to [the City Council’s Committee on] Ways and Means, I think that not only the council but the citizens of Boston would be poorer for that kind of process,” Murphy added.