Mahnker Dahnweih & crowd

Freedom Inc.'s Mahnker Dahnweih leads chants by opponents of building a new Dane County Jail during a Dane County Board of Supervisors meeting last month.

Madison officials are recommending splitting a grant for Southeast Asian senior services evenly between a group known for its disruptive lobbying tactics and a group that scored higher on a city evaluation of their competing proposals.

Freedom Inc. would get $57,500 for senior activity programming in 2020, as well as a pro-rated amount this year, under the recommendation from the city’s Community Development Division. The higher-scoring Hmong Institute would get the same amount split between $30,000 for case management and $27,500 for senior activities.

City staff and a review panel gave Freedom Inc.’s proposal for case management 61.7 points out of a possible 100, and 49.9 out of a possible 80 for its senior activities plan. The Hmong Institute earned 67.2 and 57.2, respectively.

In a memo to the city’s Committee on Aging, city staff noted that “as is often the practice … staff recommendations are based on broader considerations than scoring results.”

They noted the split in the Southeast Asian community after Journey Mental Health Center shut down the Kajsiab House in September. Kajsiab had provided help with housing and insurance, social activities, medication consultations, mental health treatment and other services to Southeast Asian elders.

Many Southeast Asians fought on America’s side during the Vietnam War or became victims of former Cambodian Prime Minister Pol Pot’s regime in the 1970s, and some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems as a result. The population also tends to be poorer than the American population as a whole.

The split suggests that “at least in the near term, loyalties to one or the other of the applicant agencies will determine from whom, or even whether, some elders will seek services,” according to the city memo. “In other words, to award all available funds to either agency will likely result in some vulnerable elders choosing not to access services. Thus, if the goal is to ensure access to the greatest number of elders, it makes sense to support both organizations.”

Community Development director Jim O’Keefe said it’s not uncommon for a higher-scoring proposal to lose out on funding to a lower-scoring proposal, in part because it’s “impossible to calibrate a scoring metric to be that precise.”

He also said evaluators made the decision to split funding 50-50 independent of the tactics employed by Freedom Inc., which during a Feb. 26 City Council meeting included repeatedly interrupting the council’s work and verbally attacking Hmong Institute leaders.

The group has used similar tactics in lobbying against the construction of a new Dane County Jail before the Dane County Board, and against school-based police officers before Madison School District bodies, sometimes forcing them to adjourn or move the public meeting behind closed doors.

In the wake of the Kajsiab House closing, the Community Development Division had wanted to continue funding the Hmong Institute, which had picked up where Kajsiab left off and hired the former Kajsiab House director, Doua Vang.

There was a falling-out between Vang and Institute leaders, however, and Vang launched his own competing program at Freedom Inc.’s offices. In response to Freedom Inc.’s entreaties, the City Council on Feb. 26 voted to put out a request for proposals for the $115,000 in city funding.

Representatives from Freedom Inc. and the Hmong Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

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