[Edit-A few hours after this meeting, due to discussion by several people, it was decided to open the task force meetings to the public, beginning with Feb. 13, 4 p.m., at the BOE building.]
The Homewood council president tonight had no answer when asked why the public is being excluded from meetings of a special task force set up deliberate on how a $110 million bond issue will be spent. “That’s the way it is,” he said.
Task force members (identified below) include five council members, two school board members, the school superintendent, mayor, public services (parks and streets) director and chairman the park board. Because members were chosen specifically to avoid a quorum of either the council, park or school board, the panel is freed from obeying the state’s open meetings laws. Asked by two residents if he would voluntarily require the task force to conduct open meetings, council president Bruce Limbaugh was also silent, but thought the public should be content to trust him. “Isn’t that’s why you elected me?” he asked. A third resident later asked if regular citizens from each ward could be seated on the task force. Mr. Limbaugh said he had already made certain each ward was represented.
Those questions and others came from five residents at a one-hour work session called to hear public input on the bond issue and penny tax. The task force, which has been operational for some time — perhaps years — is now charged with hiring a project manager to oversee an ambitious parks, schools and police spending projects determined earlier. The Request for Proposals has already been issued, Mr. Limbaugh said, with 8-10 bids expected at the opening. The group’s main role, therefore, is almost complete, he said.
Mr. Limbaugh said he expected the management firm to be hired by April. Once the management firm is hired, it would report to the task force — not the council or council committee — thereby remaining out of the public eye until the moment comes for the council to vote any decided measure into action.
The attendance was about 12 to start, growing to maybe twice that by the end of the hour. By far the greatest time was spent on an appeal by Rosedale resident Jeremy Love, who presented a petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] asking for funds to be spent on planning, parks improvements, establishing historic and commercial districts unique to the historically black neighborhood that is a victim of neglect from many causes, Love said. A meeting about clearing dilapidated buildings has been set up Feb. 21 with Ward 1 representatives Andy Gwaltney and Britt Thames, after an earlier meeting was canceled.
Love listened as council members talked about erecting historic signage, making improvements to the Lee Center and announcing for the first time (so far as I know) a major renovation of the neighborhood’s Spring Park. Mr. Limbaugh said a planned citywide traffic plan could be extended to benefit Rosedale. Mr. Gwaltney said the city had built some sidewalks (with a federal block grant), and Mr. Thames pointed out that Rosedale residents had objected previously to commercial rezoning on the fringe of residential areas. He offered that a $1.7 million federal streetscaping project already planned on 18th Street from Central to at least U.S. 280 would also benefit Rosedale businesses. Love responded by asking for a more comprehensive plan that would address redevelopment in Rosedale specifically. Neither the 2007 Master Plan nor the one planned on downtown relate to the neighborhood, he said. He cautioned that any plan need to help improve economic conditions for residents, or risk driving them out.
“This is about inclusion and equality,” he said.
In all, discussion lasted 50 minutes. Other residents speaking asked the council to consider the following projects for the new bond and tax dollars:
- Covered bus shelters along Oxmoor. (The council has been fighting the continuation of public transit in Homewood since 2015, and has proposed its own bus service.)
- Hollywood pedestrian bridge and cross walk at the bus stop on U.S. 31.
- Postponing any bike-sharing plan unless bike lanes, crossings and other infrastructure concerns were addressed first. Mr. Limbaugh said the BikeShare plan was not under consideration for the bond money.
Task Force Membership:
From the council: Bruce Limbaugh, Peter Wright (Ward 5), Britt Thames (Ward 1), Alex Wyatt (Ward 4), Walter Jones (Ward 3).
From the school board: Judy Truitt (Ward 5), Jill Kimbrell (Ward 2)
Bill Cleveland, Homewood City Schools superintendent
From the Park Board: Chairman Chris Meeks (Ward 4)
Mayor Scott McBrayer
Lt. Didcoct, HPD
Berkley Squires, public services superintendent (streets and parks)