Fairborn award of COVID money to city candidate’s business spurs investigation

Community group cites documents, suggests Sylvia Chess’ business did not qualify for a $10,000 grant it received

The city of Fairborn says there is an investigation into its own 2023 award of federal COVID relief money to a local business owner who is running for city council this fall, a decision a local community group has been questioning.

A Fairborn official told the Dayton Daily News on Friday there is an “ongoing investigation” after this news organization obtained documents through a public records request. The documents involved American Rescue Plan Act funds given to a business operated by city council candidate Sylvia Chess.

The Citizens for Fairborn’s Future community group claimed earlier this month that Chess, owner of Xtra Pro-Dev 101 Centre, LLC, received $10,000 in ARPA funding for a small business grant for which the company was not qualified.

Multiple city leaders were asked for comment on the issue. Fairborn Communications Manager Meghan Howard told the Dayton Daily News of the inquiry and said, “the city is unwilling to comment until the investigation has concluded.”

Howard declined to address further questions about the investigation, including the scope, timing, and who was running the investigation.

When asked about her business receiving the grant, Chess did not address any questions from the Dayton Daily News. She called issues raised about the grant “accusations” and deferred to the city for comment.

The city, like some others, is using federal money to help Fairborn small businesses recover from the pandemic. The city received about $6.8 million in ARPA money, $250,000 of which was designated for small business grants, Fairborn records show.

Fairborn told Chess on Feb. 7, 2023 her company at 440 W. Main St. would be receiving a $10,000 small business grant during the second round of awards, city emails show.

The city required recipients of those small business grants to be companies that had been operating on Jan. 1, 2020, according to Fairborn records.

The filing date of articles of organization for Xtra Pro-Dev 101 Centre, LLC, listing Chess as the agent, was July 1, 2020, Ohio Secretary of State documents show.

“It was not possible for the business (commercial leasing) to have lost revenue or any of the alleged impacts of COVID,” Citizens for Fairborn’s Future posted Oct. 11 on its Facebook page.

The group’s posting also said the awarded funding “should be returned immediately” and “Fairborn’s entire ARPA program should be carefully scrutinized.”

Chess is one of five candidates running for Fairborn City Council this fall, with three seats open. The other candidates are incumbents Clint Allen and Tana Stanton, plus challengers James Baker and Katy Carlton.

First-round recipients of the city’s ARPA-based grants included Glawe Awnings and Tents, Mister Hipp, Mr. P’s Lounge, Neighborhood Nest, Tickets Pub & Eatery and Zappia Foods, according to Dayton Daily News records. They each received $10,000, the maximum amount, the city said.

Fairborn records state that Chess was also notified in August 2023 that Xtra Pro-Dev 101 Centre, LLC would be receiving $12,750 for façade improvements, a separate category for which the city earmarked $300,000 of ARPA money, according to Fairborn records.

The application sought $15,000, documents show. The façade grant program did not have any deadline for a business to be in operation, according to the application guidelines.

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