Olympia’s Downtown Ambassador program will soon have a new operator, with the nonprofit SideWalk and the Olympia Downtown Association submitting proposals to manage the program.
Capitol Recovery Center, which runs the program now, didn’t submit a proposal.
The city of Olympia put out a call for bids in early September, and a selection committee will begin deliberations Oct. 17. Whichever entity is selected will manage the Downtown Ambassador program for 2018.
In 2012, the city hired Capital Recovery Center, a mental health nonprofit organization, to manage the program, which is funded by the city. Ambassadors give directions and parking information, interact with local businesses, and do social service referrals and homeless outreach. There is also a clean team that does graffiti abatement, litter removal and other improvement projects.
Keith Stahley, they city’s community planning and development director, said the program’s budget has grown from $50,000 to $350,000 and officials thought now was a good time to revisit the contract.
Ultimately, the city is looking for an agency that will provide more administrative oversight, said City Manager Steve Hall. City council members and staff had expressed some concerns with how the program was run — although they were happy with the work of individual ambassadors and Clean Team members.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re totally dissatisfied, but it seemed like this wasn’t (Capitol Recovery Center’s) main focus,” Hall said. “They were more focused on the counseling and recovery aspect.”
The decision to seek a new service provider happened weeks before Capitol Recovery Center fired a member of the clean team after learning about the employee’s criminal record.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Sept. 25, which has been deleted, the agency’s executive director James Wright wrote that a background check on the employee was “inconclusive and gave us no clear reason to investigate further ... however, the policy of CRC is not to hire any individual convicted of crimes against a vulnerable adult or child.”
“That is our policy (but) that was not a deciding fact when we let him go,” Wright said in a Sept. 28 interview. “We let him go because he would be a target walking around in our uniform and we didn’t want that for him.”
Wright did not identify the employee and declined to discuss his background.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe, who helped start the ambassador program five years ago, defended Capitol Recovery Center’s hiring in the past.
“Partially the goal of the program is to hire people who are struggling to find employment and help them get back on their feet,” Roe said. “Overall, I think they’ve had a stellar record of hiring people.”
In picking Capitol Recovery Center’s replacement, the selection committee will consider the following criteria:
▪ Previous experience and length of service with community outreach
▪ Previous experience and length of service in providing direct social service and referrals
▪ Previous experience with supervising and training work crews and providing contracted services
▪ Knowledge and expertise of the project supervisor who will work on the project
▪ Knowledge of Olympia’s downtown
Availability to meet the project timeline SideWalk’s proposal would cost about $367,000 per year. The agency would hire a program manager at about $35,000 per year, and two ambassadors at $17 per hour. A clean team lead would be paid $14 per hour, and three clean team members would be paid $12 per hour.
Other expenses include $28,000 in employee benefits, $26,000 for welcome center rent and utilities, and $30,000 for supplies.
In SideWalk’s model, the Downtown Ambassadors would hire people who are homeless, or previously had been, to serve on the clean team.
“In hiring new clean team employees, we will aim to balance program performance needs with the benefits that the prospective employee will gain from re-entering the workforce,” the SideWalk proposal reads.
The Olympia Downtown Association proposal would cost either $357,000 or $347,000 per year, depending on whether the agency opted to lease a new street sweeper or purchase a used one.
A lead ambassador would make $15 per hour, while a second ambassador would make $14 per hour. The clean team would consist of a supervisor making $18 per hour, a second-in-command making $14 per hour and a third member making $13 per hour. A seasonal, part-time clean team member would make $12 per year.
Other expenses include $22,000 for employee benefits, and $300 per month for a cell phone plan and an app to manage ambassador time. Leasing a new street sweeper would cost $23,040 per year, but would require a three-year contract. Purchasing a used street sweeper would cost $33,000 per year.
The Olympia Downtown Association model emulates Tacoma’s program. The clean team would clean sidewalks using a leaf blower, then use a small street sweeper to collect debris. The Olympia Downtown Association proposes using its own funds to purchase a truck for the program.
Both proposals recommend relocating the Downtown Welcome Center, currently at the corner of Fourth Avenue East and Franklin Street Southeast. SideWalk didn’t propose a new location, but the Olympia Downtown Association has signed a letter of intent to lease a storefront at 106 Fifth Ave. SE.
“This location, in the heart of downtown on historic Fifth Avenue, will welcome downtown visitors, providing visitor information and a home base for ODA operations,” the proposal reads.
The selection committee will consist of Roe; Stahley; Mary Corso, of the Parking and Business Improvement Area; Bryan Wyllie, of the Olympia Police Department; Phil Rollins, downtown business owner; Kylee Marineau of Community Youth Services; and Shawna Stewart of the Visitor and Convention Center.