Birmingham City Council Continues Questioning of House-Building Contract

The Birmingham City Council met on Aug. 29, 2017. Source: Sam Prickett

Aug. 29, 2017 — An ongoing debate over a District 9 construction contract dominated Tuesday’s meeting of the Birmingham City Council, though the only outcome was the promise of more debate.

Outgoing Councilor Marcus Lundy continued his criticisms of Bethel Ensley Action Task, an organization that had been contracted by the city to build two houses in Lundy’s district over two years — a project Lundy says remains unfinished.

Tuesday’s discussion centered on a proposed resolution, which appeared as a late addendum to the meeting’s agenda, to rescind another contract with BEAT that the council had adopted earlier this year. That contract would allocate a further $1.5 million for BEAT to construct nine more three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses in the Enon Ridge community, where the two houses from the previous contract had been built. Lundy said the proposal to rescind the second contract was based on allegations BEAT failed to fulfill the first. Instead, he argued, the second contract should be opened to bids from other contractors.

Representatives for the city, including assistant city attorney Jim Stanley, argued that any violations of the first contract by BEAT were unsubstantial. He said that, barring an air conditioning unit that had not yet been installed for fear of vandalism or theft, the houses had been completed.

The council was split on the proposal, with Lundy and Lashunda Scales as the most vocal proponents of ending the contract and Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt emerging as BEAT’s most vigorous defender.

“At some point, we’ve got to stop and say, ‘Are we going to continue to allow mediocrity in this city?’” Lundy said.

Hoyt, meanwhile, argued that BEAT needed to be given another chance. “I respect (Lundy), but I can’t forget that BEAT has been a great part of the city of Birmingham,” he said. He questioned why BEAT was being targeted when other city projects were also behind schedule. “To me, it’s disingenuous,” he said. “I’m not going to vote to rescind this contract, because they need an opportunity to … fulfill it.”

Scales argued that all contractors with the city need to be held accountable. “Why would you reward a company that hasn’t finished the first $300,000 (contract) with an additional $1.5 million?” she asked, remarking that she recalled issues with the Enon Ridge development arising when Lundy’s predecessor, Roderick Royal, was in office. “We need to help hold everyone accountable for every dollar that goes out of the city … . I think that every contract needs to be scrutinized by the public.”

Eventually, Lundy opted to withdraw the item from consideration, saying he would like to meet with Mayor William Bell, Community Development Director John Colon, and any other relevant parties before bringing the issue back to the dais.


Election Questions

The previous Tuesday’s municipal election, which had seen most of the council elected for another term, briefly became a topic of discussion when District 2 Councilor Kim Rafferty, who narrowly secured a place in the Oct. 3 runoff election, raised a question about voters in her district to Bell.

Registered voters had listed their residence as a hotel, Rafferty said, though she maintained that she was concerned about whether the hotel was licensed for permanent residency, not whether the voters were legitimate.

Her line of questioning was interrupted by Scales, who questioned the legality of current candidates for office — Bell is also a candidate in the runoff election — discussing voter data on the dais. Council President Johnathan Austin, who will also face a challenger in the runoff, agreed. He said Rafferty should direct her concerns to the law department and the city clerk instead of bringing them up publicly.

The council also voted to approve travel expenses for two administrative assistants to the mayor: $304.92 for Gregory Jones to attend a meeting with federal officials regarding grand incentives in Atlanta, and $2,330.80 for Kevin Owens to attend the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials in Detroit.

As always, Councilor Valerie Abbott was the sole dissenting vote. However, she did vote to approve travel expenses for Negro Southern League Museum curator Toby Richards to travel to Budapest, Hungary, for “exhibition and research” — once she was informed that a funding source other than the city was paying for the trip.