Aug. 22, 2017 — The only voice of contention at Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting happened to come from the one councilor not on the election ballot.
District 9 Councilor Marcus Lundy, who is not seeking re-election, followed through on his promise last week to “finish strong” by challenging the mayor on various development projects — particularly the housing development at Enon Ridge, a neighborhood in Lundy’s district.
Mayor William Bell remained silent, not looking up from his desk as Lundy questioned him over allegations that Bethel-Ensley Action Task, a contractor with the city, had not finished two houses in Enon Ridge over the course of two years. Lundy’s questions were instead fielded by Community Development Director John Colon.
Lundy echoed his concerns from the previous week’s meeting, alleging that BEAT was in breach of its contract with the city, not only for failing to complete the houses in a timely manner, but for failing to provide regular reports to the city on the progress.
Colon responded that the houses had been finished, except for an air conditioning unit in the second house that had been stolen and had not yet been replaced. Any delay, he said, could be attributed to an illness of the lead contractor. BEAT had fulfilled its contract, Colon said, adding that the city had gotten oral reports on the progress — just not written ones.
Lundy seemed unsatisfied with Colon’s answers, with both men growing visibly frustrated. It was unfair, Lundy said, that building two houses in his district was taking so long, while other housing developments contracted by the city were completed much more quickly. One of those is the Cascade Parc development in East Lake, for which 11 houses were built by Habitat for Humanity.
“It smells like electioneering and politics,” Lundy said.
At his mention of Cascade Parc, Council President Johnathan Austin stepped in. “The bottom-line question is, how (has Habitat for Humanity) been able to complete that amount of houses in the same amount of time that we’ve given the contractors over in Enon Ridge,” he said.
Austin suggested that the problem was with BEAT, and that a solution might be to call in Habitat for Humanity or another contractor to build further homes in Enon Ridge. “At the end of the day,” he said to Lundy, “you just want houses in Enon Ridge … no matter who does it.”
“That’s all,” Lundy replied.
The issue of BEAT’s work came up in a meeting earlier in August, when Lundy asked that the mayor rescind a new contract with that group, approved by the council in July. That contract gives the organization $1.5 million to build 10 more houses in Enon Ridge. Bell responded that his office would examine potential solutions to the issue.
Minority Participation Questioned
Lundy also expressed concern over a proposal to sell the former Slossfield Community Center, at 1910 and 1920 25th Ave. N. and 1918 25th Court N., to the Salvation Army for $250,000. Lundy stated his worries that there was not enough minority participation in the project. He cited a previous Salvation Army project that had only “yielded 2 percent” minority involvement. “I just want you to understand … the importance of working with the community,” he said.
Major Roger Glick, a representative for the Salvation Army, said there would be an “effort to increase minority participation moving forward for this particular project.”
“One of the ways to do that is to actively pursue women-owned and minority-owned firms. … If you secure someone on that side from the very beginning, then you’ve already met your obligation,” Lundy responded. “Please understand, you’re free to run your business the way you want to run it. However, when you come to the city for incentive or abatement … then you take on what the city mandates.”
Airport Authority Confirmation
A resolution confirming the appointment of one member to the Birmingham Airport Authority was the subject of a divisive vote. Again, Lundy was the main outspoken voice.
“I don’t remember this coming before any of the committees,” he said. He moved to have the item, which had been submitted to the agenda by the mayor, referred to the transportation committee. Councilors Kim Rafferty, Jay Roberson and William Parker voted against referring the item to committee, but the majority of councilors present — Valerie Abbott, Austin, Lundy, and Tyson — voted to refer it. Councilors Lashunda Scales and Steven Hoyt were not present at the meeting.
Also on Tuesday, the council approved the following travel expenses for city employees: $209 for Gregory Jones, an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office, to meet with state and federal officials in Montgomery; $3,702.43 for Jarvis Patton, the mayor’s chief of staff, to observe the World Games of 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland; $1,540.52 for Cassanda Smith, an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office, to attend a meeting of the National Council of State Housing Agencies in Atlanta.
Two advance travel expenses were also approved: $326 for Kwani Carson, an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office, to attend the Cities United Fourth Annual Convening in Minneapolis, Minnesota later this week; and $2,815.60 for Tanilya Jackson, a communications officer in the mayor’s office, to attend the Opportunity at Work TechHire Roundtable Close It Summit in Chicago in late September.
As usual, Abbott was the lone vote against approving all travel expenses.