At a parking-lot news conference designed for photo opportunities, St. Paul officials praised a new program that aimed to get 50 unemployed men to work by paying to help them earn commercial driver's licenses.
Framed by large trucks parked on the asphalt, Mayor Chris Coleman spoke glowingly about the program created by Luz Maria Frias, director of the city's Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity department. Frias spoke, as did City Council Member Melvin Carter III, who represents the inner-city Promise Neighborhood areas that were to be the beneficiaries of the effort to get the men into jobs paying annual salaries of $30,000 to $50,000.
A year after that announcement, the city can't say if the program was a success because no one tracked graduates in finding work.
Coleman spokesman Joe Campbell said all the money for the program went into training rather than tracking placement after the classes.
The goal, according to leaders at that news conference, was to graduate 50 city residents at a cost of $20,000 total. The city paid $12,000 and the Greater Twin Cities United Way and YWCA of St. Paul paid the rest. Campbell said 46 of 50 men graduated.
The idea was to get more minorities into public works jobs that require Class B driver's licenses. Frias said the idea came to her after receiving complaints from residents about the lack of diversity on street crews. Coleman and Frias also said that a single contractor on the Central Corridor light-rail transit line would need 150 drivers a day.
Although the city couldn't say whether the contractor employed any graduates, at least one man is satisfied. When he signed up, Brian Troutman, 53, of St. Paul, had been unemployed for nearly three years. He had lost his job in a bank after 21 years when the economy cratered in 2008. He was working temporary jobs when he signed up for the class.
"It was a blessing," he said.
He started working for the city in May 2011 as a seasonal employee and was laid off in December 2011 as work dwindled with the season.
He didn't want to publicize his salary, but called it "real money" and significantly more than he had made at the bank. What's more, he also had insurance through the city drivers' union.
"Me and my wife got checkups and got our teeth cleaned," he said enthusiastically.
Troutman waxed joyfully about the street maintenance job that involved many pothole repairs. "You're outside; I liked it. I had my truck, a certain type of freedom. You're not in a cubicle," he said. "You get to drive all these cool trucks."
Troutman said he knows of two other graduates now working for the city -- one permanent and one temporary like himself.
The program had issues from the start. At the time of the initial news conference -- about a month after the program had started -- only one person had graduated. But as it turned out, he wasn't a resident of the Promise Neighborhood or even of St. Paul, nor was he in need of a job.
At the time, Ahmed Muhumud earned $70,400 working in Minneapolis' Neighborhood and Community Relations Department and was living in a southern suburb.
Last spring, he said he got his commercial driver's license because he was interested in starting a trucking business. He didn't return calls in the past week seeking an update on his status, but a Minneapolis city spokesman said he remains employed as an outreach manager with an annual salary of $78,479.99.
Asked about Muhumud at the time, a spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Coleman said that subsequent participants would be required to live in the Summit-University or Frogtown neighborhoods. Campbell said the city made Muhumud pay back his tuition because he had misrepresented his situation on his application.
As for other graduates, there is no way to verify the program's success. The city cited privacy laws in refusing to release the names of those who completed the program.
For Troutman, at least, the program worked and he eagerly awaits a full-time job as city drivers retire. "I've just got to be patient. It shouldn't be too long now," he said.
Rochelle Olson 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson