The Albany City Council was scheduled to receive an update Monday from Linn-Benton Community College on its welding training program with equipment funded by the city.
At the end of an hour, the council froze its partnership with the institution, stopping all payments and moving to perform an audit on equipment the college had purchased.
“This started years ago,” said Councilor Rich Kellum who detailed a five-year process sparked by local metal and welding industries expressing a need for skilled workers. LBCC, in attempting to provide those workers, partnered with the city — and with the utilization of a separate bond — to add new classes and programs. The city issued a grant for $2.9 million.
Kellum said that, at the time, he requested a list of equipment the college had hoped to purchase with the funds. On Monday he presented two lists: the original city-sanctioned list of equipment and the list of equipment LBCC purchased.
“Obviously, there is a large difference in what we agreed to and what has happened,” he said.
According to the lists, the city agreed to reimburse the college for the purchase of eight welding machines, and LBCC purchased 40. Overall, LBCC spent $40,000 on equipment or equipment upgrades that were not on the city-sanctioned list. At a previous council meeting in October, the college said it would return those funds to the city.
Steve Schilling, who was hired in July as LBCC's dean of advanced manufacturing, said he could not speak to the original contract agreed upon five years ago. He added that in conversations with his predecessor, he understood the two parties had several meetings where there was “an implied approval” from the council to purchase the additional equipment.
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“The spirit of this agreement,” he said, “was this body wanted LBCC to upscale and provide workers for an industry in your community.”
Albany Chamber of Commerce President Janet Steele said the partnership between the city and LBCC in terms of funding the equipment had added 1,500 employees to the industry in the last five years.
Schilling added that the agreement did not call for LBCC to adhere to the initial list of equipment and that it utilized the phrase “generally proposed” when referring to equipment the college would purchase.
Councilor Alex Johnson II said he understood that technology has advanced and the machines purchased may have been different than the ones on the initial list.
“But it I went off script like this,” he said, “I would be behind bars. If I did this in my industry, I’d be in jail for 10 years.”
Kellum asked that the partnership be frozen until the city could audit LBCC and determine where and how the money was spent.
Councilor Dick Olsen cast the sole vote against the motion, noting that he did not want to interrupt classes and that industry leaders in the community had weighed in on the college’s purchases. Schilling said he did not believe classes would be halted in order to conduct the audit.
Kellum maintained he was not asking LBCC for the money back but asked that industry leaders again be brought into the process and questioned about the college’s purchases.
The motion to freeze the partnership and deny the payment of all invoices until an audit could be conducted passed. City staff was directed to work with college staff to determine what equipment had been purchased.