Mayor Scott McBrayer tonight thanked council president Bruce Limbaugh for calling a special session of the whole council before it considers whether to hire consultant B. L. Harbert — or another firm — to manage the $110 million bond spending program. And with that, a problematic and private “Task Force” Mr. Limbaugh assembled to receive bids and interview candidates for the capital projects, has been dissolved — at least as far as he’s concerned, according to the mayor.
It remains to be seen whether that is also Mr. Limbaugh’s plan, although it seemed so as he thanked the members tonight for their “labor of love” for Homewood.
The council work session is scheduled for Monday, April 3, at 5 p.m. at City Hall. The mayor’s remarks implied he had asked Mr. Limbaugh to finally make public the documents of all five project bidders not only to residents, but to the majority of the council members who had been excluded from the task force itself when it was announced Jan. 30.
Those excluded were all the newly elected council members–Andy Gwaltney, Mike Higginbotham, Andrew Wolverton, and Jennifer Andress–and also returning members Patrick McClusky and Barry Smith. The plan to keep the deliberations for such a staggering amount of money behind closed doors drew protests from several residents, especially those in Rosedale, who asked in December and January why their neighborhood had been cut from the spending plan.
The select council minority has been meeting ever since with other officials and the partial memberships of the parks and school boards as a so-called “Task Force,” an entity Mr. Limbaugh said was not subject to the state Open Meetings act because no quorum of any one board would be present. The group’s task was to receive bidders on a proposal to manage planning and spending the bond issue (and penny tax passed in October) for a massive schools rebuilding program, ball field expansion and construction of a new public safety facility. Once selected, the management firm was to continue reporting to the task force–not the whole council–rendering any record of the deliberations nonpublic as well. The prospect sparked a mini-rebellion by a group calling themselves Concerned Homewood Citizens for Transparency, who posted two open letters demanding the meetings be open and above board.
Although Mr. Limbaugh expected 8-10 bidders, there were only five: Harbert, Robins & Morton, Hoar Programs Management, Capital Program Management and Volkert, Inc. That number was winnowed to three and at its last meeting March 16 the task force recommended B. L. Harbert, which had already donated to the school board a land use study that is the basis for most of the building plans on the table now. Some have called the donation of plans for a promise of future work unethical.
Now, however, the final recommendation will come not from the task force, as Mr. Limbaugh planned, but from the whole council, whose excluded members will have the next two weeks to consider all five bidders.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing as Jack Hinnen said in his prayer,” the mayor said from the lectern as the meeting tonight was closing. The mayor said later he attended the first task force meeting but not others, presumably because it was not the “right thing.”
Nevertheless, the task force was allowed to continue to this point without objection, and Mr. Limbaugh himself had predicted the bulk of its work would be finished in early March. The mayor would also could not comment on whether Mr. Limbaugh might reconvene this or another task force for any other future project, as the group was only informally assembled by his hand-picked list, and not by council vote.
Documents will be made available to the general public by request to the city clerk, Melody Salter.
Timeline of events:
- Municipal elections, Aug. 23
- City purchases west Homewood Mason Corp. industrial property for $4.25 million for parks and possibly school use, Aug. 29, also here.
- The schools superintendent on Sept. 27 presents a plan to expand schools, ballfields, and possibly relocate the high school, based on a study by B. L. Harbert.
- City passes a penny sales tax and $110 million bond issue, Oct. 24.
- New council members sworn in, Nov. 7.