Category Archives: Special topics

Homewood City Schools, Growth and Demographic Projections presentation, Aug. 10, 2017

About 50 people, including many city officials, attended the school system’s surprising presentation of its demography projections for the next decade. While a wave of growth will flow through the system and crest in the high school, the numbers are expected to recede behind it. No population boom is predicted for West Homewood, despite the city’s $35 million investment in parks, the demographer tells the council president.

 

 

 

Click to link to meeting video

Click to link to the demography charts and graphs

By the bulletpoints

The presentation was made by the Cooperative Strategies demography firm over the summer. The purpose was to look at the direction increasing enrollments would likely take into the next decade in order to inform a building plan. In the last 2 1/2 years, with an eye to actual enrollments, the city council, parks and school board staff worked with Harbert International to sketch out a shared expansion of west Homewood property for ballparks and possibly a relocated high school building. The city then backed a $110 million bond issue, dedicating half to the school facilities expansion project (minus the high school relocation), $35 million to ballfields expansion and new pool, and the rest to a relocated police facility. Tonight, the results of the projections showed a wave of student growth moving up through the system and cresting in the high school in 2025, while enrollments behind it will recede. While audience members resisted the news, particularly as it pertains to assumed population explosion in West Homewood, the demographer steadfastly disagreed.

Background:

Basing findings on a method using birth rate, student yield per unit of housing, census data and current enrollments, the demographer hit the following points:

  • A bubble of enrollment began in 2007 and is working through the system.
  • Routine student yield for multi-family dwellings is about 15 per 100 units; in Homewood the number is nearly twice that.
  • The housing composition served by each elementary school is 74% single family for Edgewood versus a 50/50 breakdown between single- and multi-family housing for both Hall-Kent and Shades Cahaba elementary schools.
  • Student densities and housing type have shifted over the last decade. Specifically, the approximately 300 students displaced by the razing of the Magnolia Apartments was counterbalanced by an equal growth in the western area apartments over the following three years.  
  • Student yield by school zone has been decreasing over the last 4 years.
  • The birth rate has remained relatively flat; and building permits show a relatively flat rate of growth.

Projections:

  • The elementary schools are at or slightly over capacity at the present time, with numbers expected to decrease.
  • Even the most liberal projection only adds 200 students to Hall-Kent over the next decade, while the most conservative projection shows the high school hitting 1,400 at its peak and the middle school rising to 1,110 students.
  • The high school is over capacity now and will be compounded

Reaction:

City council president Bruce Limbaugh seemed stunned, perhaps disappointed to hear that a population boom wasn’t predicted in West Homewood. He asked if the city’s commitment to building $30 million in new parks would increase that number, but the demographer dismissed the “If we build it they will come” mentality, saying investment doesn’t necessarily create a bubble, and that there were no indications of an increase based on the “time-tested” model the company was utilizing. Several from the audience then questioned whether the figures could be wrong, or the demographer overlooking trends more obvious to long-time residents, builders, etc. The demographer said all that may be true, but those factors weren’t reflected in the numbers so far.

Superintendent Bill Cleveland said he hoped to start taking steps on a plan by Labor Day. He assured the audience that he was taking more into account than just demographics, such as the likelihood that millennials drawn to Birmingham’s growing cultural and entertainment scene will bring their families to Homewood — and Homewood schools — in the near future.

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Survey results, question #3, Public satisfaction and engagement: Are we making progress on key issues?

Survey #3 Results–What do we know and when did we know it? 321 residents respond

Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains to a tiny group of West Homewood residents last fall how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools.

Approximately 300 respondents each in two earlier surveys listed a host of Homewood amenities they value from which a strong top five priority assets have emerged.  Keeping the health of these assets in mind–and knowing that a penny tax and $110 million for capital improvements are in play–Survey #3 asked “Are you satisfied with progress so far?” A total of 321 residents responded to nine questions about their engagement. And because the tax and millions were passed with no public input, the survey also asked if voters were staying in touch with elected officials, if they knew the funding status of their projects, and how do they gather news on city business. In short, if we’re not satisfied with how things are going, what are we doing about it?

“I don’t have time to involve myself in city politics and budgeting. I trust my elected officials to allocate resources appropriately but it’s clearly not being done” 

Results

How proactive are Homewood voters? Reading from L-R are the total who chose each category followed by the number in each category who are “satisfied with progress,” and of those, how many have contacted a council rep. The number polling “not satisfied” and calling a rep continues on the right.

Q. List the top (two) city assets of importance to you: 

Survey #3 asked respondents to choose their top two city assets from a list of five named in earlier surveys and to answer a series of questions about each. Top assets in order of responses were Safety, followed closely by Schools, and less closely by Walkability. Further behind were Neighborhood Attractiveness at #4 and finally, falling steeply to #5 Public Green Space/Parks. This follows the same order as noted earlier except for Safety overtaking Schools in the first spot. And, as before, comments are instructive since residents tend to see a lot of overlap in categories:

“The solution and funding for the schools should be of extreme priority over the Parks and Rec Improvements. People do NOT choose to move to a municipality because they’ve got great pools.”

Q. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with progress?  Have you contacted your ward representative about this?

Content and Commentary

A fervor over sidewalks versus the preservation of trees and history brought residents out in force to a recent council forum. The event was a potent mix of interests in walkability, safety, neighborhood appearances and green space.

It’s important to note, as the commentary bears out, that the level of satisfaction with a category usually relates to a specific issue, the pace of progress or priority given to it, not to the category itself. For example, dissatisfaction with raising police wages (noted by several respondents) obviously indicates support of the department overall. It’s important to read beyond the chart into the context of each survey answer. Please follow the open link to the survey results, below.

“Aren’t neighborhood attractiveness and public green spaces/parks redundant? Are these the only issues the City of Homewood faces? What about flooding issues, overcrowding, over-sized McMansions, lack of zoning enforcement. …”

Of all five content areas, only the top two, Safety and Schools, drew a majority of “satisfied with progress” answers, while also posting the lowest percentage of comments. Conversely, the three remaining areas polled more “dissatisfied” answers and substantially more commentary. Walkability led the way with the highest number and percentage of feedback comments. Perhaps respondents feel more qualified to comment on their sidewalks, trees and parks than on lofty abstractions like Safety and Schools, important as they are.

Q. Is this concern a funded priority for Homewood city leaders? Is it in the current budget?

This question sought mainly to point out that if an issue isn’t address in the budget, it’s not a priority. But answers were hard to analyze and indicated the difficulty in “following the money”: Certainly schools, parks and police are key budget funds, but what about adding more foreign language, establishing pocket parks or upgrading police technology, as some respondents asked? School and park board budgets are governed by separate boards, and how do residents know about particular funding questions without asking directly? They don’t.

Most talked about

2016 tree planting at Woodland Park

As a measure of public engagement, the survey followed up by asking respondents if they had contacted council representatives about their issues. While the number contacting reps was higher in the dissatisfied group, as expected, public responsiveness overall seemed remarkably low. Which isn’t to say they kept silent–Survey commentary was often detailed and colorful.

Walkability60 comments of 132 responding:  Most comments fell into two main categories: A. Demands for more sidewalks (Forest Brook especially), more quickly built (31); and B. Calls for more pedestrian crosswalks and bridges over major arteries, including U.S. 280 from Hollywood to Mountain Brook, over Lakeshore Drive from Hollywood to Target, over Lakeshore Drive from Green Springs to the Greenway and over Green Springs Highway from Raleigh to Old Columbiana (13).

“While the they are putting in sidewalks each year, I wish they would focus on connecting areas by putting them where it is hard to walk – like coming up from the tunnel into the pig’s parking lot – where does one go safely??” 

New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.

Neighborhood Appearances58 comments of 114:  Comments fell into four main critiques: A. Overbuilding and tree cutting (15); B. Need for regulating house design, height and size; (8); C. Cleaning up unkempt yards; and D. Neglect of Rosedale and West Homewood (5).

“There is no standard for continuity among Edgewood homes.  Anything goes.  Want to pave over your entire front lawn for more convenient parking? Great!  Want to clear cut a tiny lot to put a 5/5 house on it?  Great!  Want to build houses with cheap materials that degrade the value of surrounding houses?  Great!  I’m not saying I want a strict neighborhood covenant, but some sort of architectural line needs to be drawn in the sand.” 

Safety 46 comments of 161: While safety means policing to most people, comments typically reflected suburban concerns about traffic over crime: A. Improve intersection safety, parking, traffic enforcement (11); B. More neighborhood patrols, specifically on Murray Hill, West Homewood, Green Springs Highway, and on Oxmoor Road (10); C. Citing good work and improvement/asking for better wages, more technology, more officers (9).

“The intersection of Hwy 31 and Saulter is very dangerous. We also have too many people parking on the streets–directly across from one another, creating narrow chutes for drivers.”

More than 300 people attended a September 2016 presentation about schools overcrowding, facilities expansion and possible relocation of the high school (shown). Funding seems less certain six months later as parents await studies due in early August.

Schools – 40 comments of 150 responding: Top school comments were divided evenly between concern over council meddling and short-changing school funds (10), and school board failure to plan for growth (10). The next most common concerns were class size and student/teacher ratio (5), and concern over the fate of the high school relocation (5). Other comments covered a variety of issues. Only two addressed curriculum, one asking for more recess, and support for the arts and the other more foreign language and innovative teaching.

“Schools here are great. But I am not satisfied with the lack of progress in the long-term master plan for schools. The $110M bond issue should have had the schools’ long term plan in place before parks could begin plans. I fear this will create unnecessary overlap if a new high school is the chosen route.” 

A new group is promoting a pocket park in the current jail property when it is relocated to West Homewood. Residents want more green space across the city.

Public Green Spaces/Parks31 comments of 81: People responding in this category were of one mind–the city needs more green space and more pocket parks in every neighborhood, but especially downtown. Of the 31 commenting, 18 specifically mentioned pocket parks. Remaining comments spanned a topics such as planning, establishing off-leash areas; keeping the school property on Valley Ave natural as a residential buffer, and hiring an arborist, among other responses.

“We have less green space than the average city and we’re losing what we have.”

Q. How do you keep informed about city plans?

The survey asked respondents to list every information source they use, so the columns aren’t mutually exclusive. Most respondents (267 of 319), or 84%, use the Homewood Star community newspaper and an astonishing number (247 of 319) or 74% use social media for some news. Which they rely on more, and for what kinds of information is anyone’s guess. But if I were on the city council and concerned about communication, I might propose adding a social media component to the city’s website.


Other sources (51) include an interesting mix of sources, such as Jennifer Andress’s council news emails, the East Edgewood neighborhood watch emails, this blog, and informed neighbors, and “the grapevine.” Is it enough without regular coverage by a major metro news organization? As one respondent put it, ” I do all this and still am too often sadly surprised.”

To read the actual responses, including comments, follow this link:https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-DQTS5C26/

Mayfair Triangle hearing/decision, July 10, 2017

The ill-fated Mayfair triangle, looking south from Roxbury. Opponent Chris Lane’s house is in the background.

One wonders what could be accomplished if this much political energy were spent on something more substantial than preserving a concrete traffic triangle for sidewalks that had already been bid. But that was the question at this afternoon’s Public Safety Committee meeting, where 75+ men, women and especially children were present for a final showdown over the fate of the triangle. It lost.

Proponents of removing the Mayfair triangle to move a Mayfair Drive sidewalk project forward — and their children–packed the committee room.

On one side were the (seeming) majority of stakeholders who want the sidewalk planned down the north side of Mayfair to Roxbury, where it will cross to the west side of the street and then to Huntington Road one block north. They brought their children to drive home their stance that the sidewalk will provide a safe path to play and walk to and from school. On the other were the triangle preservationists, who saw in the removal the city slowly chipping away at city charm and whose main spokesman, Chris Lane, originally objected to the sidewalk’s removal of trees on Mayfair. A discussion, with background but no public portion, was on the June Planning Commission agenda. 

The presentation began with Greg Cobb showing a rendering of the proposed intersection modification, with the sidewalk crossing from Mayfair across Roxbury where the triangle used to be. A vestigial grassy area would be created there, planted in zoysia, and with a street light, according to the proposal. There would be a three-way stop. Fire Marshal Nickolas Hill concurred, saying firefighters would prefer all triangles to be eliminated in the city, along with speed bumps and any obstruction that delayed response time. Traffic consultant Darrell Skipper then explained that a T-shaped intersection was, in general, more safe than an island that increased “driver decision-making” about which way to go, or the number of points that cars could collide.

Moderator Alex Wyatt, one of the three committee members of five present (McClusky and Thames absent), allowed two speakers on each side to speak, then allowed any council member present to weigh in, which several did.

The drawn plan to connect U.S. 31 to Roxbury to Huntington.

Councilman Peter Wright led the discussion through the options that had been eliminated, 1) Allowing the crosswalk to cross Roxbury north of the triangle (eliminated because the slope is steeper on the east side of the road), and crossing Roxbury through the triangle itself (eliminated due to lack of room).

During the public portion, Mr. Lane’s attorney Roger Lucas disputed that the traffic engineer had performed a safety study (he had not), and said no regular firefighters interviewed thought the triangle was unsafe. Another resident said the T-shaped intersection actually provided a reduced radius for fire engine turns, making it less safe.

Speaking in favor of the removal were two residents, who said they didn’t understand why the project was on hold now that the trees were removed and the project bid out. They both emphasized the need for children’s safety.

Concluding the session were council members Barry Smith, Jennifer Andress and Andrew Wolverton, all three speaking in favor of letting the sidewalk project–including the triangle removal–commence.

Committee members Wolverton, Wyatt and Andress then voted to recommend the item to the full council, which passed the measure at its regular 6 p.m. meeting.

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Survey Question #2 results: What do we want for Homewood to Improve?

“Walkability,” “Safety” and “Neighborhood Attractiveness” are the top three concerns of respondents, who frequently commented on oversized houses, street parking and the need for more green space and trees. This development on Broadway was the site of a pocket park proposed by residents but voted down by the council in 2013.

In May, we surveyed Homewood residents to rank the top five reasons they live in Homewood. Those responses yielded 11 reasons, of which schools ranked #1 overall and as respondents’ overwhelming first choice. This month we took those results and asked respondents to pick three of those areas that could be improved from better planning, investment or other renewal. That survey returned 296 responses, of which the top answer was clearly Walkability, with 149 responses, followed by Safety (121), Neighborhood Attractiveness (108) and again, Schools (105). A close also-ran was Parks, with 91 responses.

Woodland park tree planting 2016

As before, respondents were able to give free-text comments for each answer, and those clarifications are summarized below. In general, its important to note that “Safety” frequently refers to traffic enforcement over more serious crime–and includes improving child safety by building more sidewalks and crosswalks, or keeping parked cars off the streets. There was significant overlap in responses to Neighborhood Attractiveness, Safety, Walkability and Parks. Out of the 91 comments on improving parks, nearly all mentioned adding pocket parks to downtown or neighborhoods, adding green space, trails, trees and landscaping, The best recent example would be the 2012 petition and grassroots movement to establish a pocket park on Broadway and Carr Avenue, which the council voted down 7-4 on Sept. 16, 2013) 

Schools category responses favored facilities and staff expansions to reduce classroom crowding and increase teacher/student ratio. The Schools category attracted the fewest comments (44) of all top answers.

Both surveys were circulated primarily through four Homewood Facebook discussion groups, as well as by email and subsequent sharing. Each category below contains the breakdown of responses by ward. The chart showing responses of all 10 categories is at the bottom along with a link to all responses.

Walkability (149)

The 2007 Master Plan calls for more connectivity within and between neighborhoods and better integration of neighborhoods with trails and green spaces. Lakeshore Drive and other roads are barriers to the trail.

Over half of the 296 respondents chose Walkability as the city asset most in need of improvement, with most of those citing “more sidewalks” (less frequently but importantly bike lanes, trails, and paths) in comments added in 2/3 of the responses. In addition to more sidewalks, respondents specified wanting sidewalks to connect important areas such as neighborhoods to retail areas, to

pocket parks, schools, to the library, or to each other. Many responding with this answer and “Safety,” below, also mentioned crosswalks and pedestrian bridges from residential areas to the Lakeshore greenway, for example, to Samford, to Brookwood mall, and connecting east and west neighborhoods over Green Springs Highway.

There were specific calls for sidewalks on Berry Road, Saulter Road, in Forest Brook, on Carr Avenue, and West Oxmoor Road.

“Any sidewalk is good but the real value comes when a sidewalk makes an unwalkable street walkable and especially one that provides a high level of connectivity. … Take Saulter Rd for example. … Yes it would be a costly project but there would be no greater return on that investment. Let’s be real not political.”

Safety (121)

Traffic along Reese Street is a nightmare. Commenters choosing “Safety” as a concern most often cited better enforcement of speeding, traffic and street parking.

Safety was the second area respondents chose as needing improvement. The clearest call from over 70 comments was for more traffic enforcement, especially of speeders, and to reducing street parking in neighborhoods and dangerous turn maneuvers on U.S. 31 and Green Springs Highway. The next most cited request was for more visible neighborhood patrol, perhaps with officers on bikes or on foot, rather than Tahoes.

Residents are aware that police and fire department salaries should be raised.

Beside traffic enforcement, comments were spread across many topics, such as “cleaning up” prostitution near west motels, apartments, Green Springs Highway, West Valley Avenue and Wildwood.

“Thankful for our city police but I wish they would find more funding for police and fire who do a great job of keeping our community safe.”

Several comments mentioned wanting more attention to thefts and break-ins and better public relations, such as reporting crime rates, following up on incident reports, and communicating with the public.

Neighborhood Attractiveness (108)

New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.

Respondents think alike when it comes to neighborhood appearances, and the list of improvements is long. They want more trees, better landscaping and maintenance in common areas and rights of way, streets paved, curbs repaired, parked cars off of streets, old, leaning signs replaced, litter cleaned up, and codes enforced.

This topic drew the most comments as a percentage of responses than any other. In general order of frequency, comments called for enforcing nuisance codes to “clean up” yards, remove or repair abandoned houses, place limits on housing size, preserve trees and enforce regulations to maintain construction sites. Several responses asked to set up a Design Review committee for residences.

“I am very concerned about the loss of canopy and paving of large portions of single home lots for large driveways etc.”

Schools (105) 

Parents’ top priority was more classroom space and teachers to keep teacher-student ratio low.

Yes, respondents called for investment in school improvements just slightly less often than Neighborhood Attractiveness, but the topic drew the fewest comments of the top five.

Top answers all concerned relieving classroom overcrowding by expanding schools buildings and hiring more teachers to improve teacher-student ratio. There is a need for larger gym and better fields, according to one answer.

Several respondents were aware of the funding competition between ballfields and school buildings, saying that schools were their priority. They called for the city to limit housing size in the face of the school overcrowding, and maintain school funding however possible.

“The solution and funding for the schools absolutely must be the priority for Homewood. It is clear that the reason people live here/move here is for the education….”

Academically, comments asked for more foreign language courses, enrichment classes, and for money to be spent on teachers and teacher resources versus administration. Some parents found the school top-heavy in administration. They felt the majority of students in average category needed the same attention given to gifted and special needs students.

Parks (91)

Residents want more natural areas, trails and pocket parks in neighborhoods, such as Overton Park

Comments on preserving trees, adding trails, pocket parks–especially downtown–and green space were so ubiquitous throughout all categories it seems unfair not to include the fifth-place “Parks” section.

Respondents clearly used the term “Parks” to describe passive parks, trails, green spaces, community gardens and pocket parks. Of the 65 total comments, the greatest response was the call to add more pocket parks, green spaces and trails, and connect them systematically. Downtown was frequently cited as devoid of planned green spaces, or “95% hardscape.” There was a chorus of comments supporting establishment of an urban park in the soon-to-be-vacated jail space. Citywide across all categories, comments called for more tree planting, more green space, more pocket parks, more trails, more tree buffers along creeks and streams and more neighborhood parks. Are parks and street maintenance compatible departments under the same department head, as in Homewood? One commenter didn’t think so. Two others said there was too much Rec and not enough Parks in Homewood.

“Parks are one thing and Recreation is another. In Homewood, they are all mainly about organized (paid) recreation. Could use a dose of enlightenment in our parks department.”

The top 5 responses are out of 10 categories available from Survey #1, and comments to all are worth reading. Below is a chart of the numbers of responses in each category and link to the open survey; copy and paste in your browser if the link isn’t live. After following the link, click the Individual Responses tab and use the arrows to scroll through responses (one response was deleted to hide personal information): https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6ZDZVS9P/

What We Want for Homewood survey, question #1 results, May 20, 2017

Schools are Homewood’s most valuable asset in this survey overwhelming top priority for a third of respondents and the top choice overall.

Would anyone be surprised that a survey of Homewood’s most valued advantages would show “Schools” as the overwhelming first choice? An informal survey asking neighborhood respondents to rank the top five reasons to live in Homewood returned 301 responses, minus a few off-topic, showing just that. Of all respondents, more than a third overall listed schools as their top priority and more than two thirds overall chose schools as a reason to live in Homewood. Since the survey allowed free-text answers, their praise made it clear they thought the system deserved the top listing.

Schools Schools Schools Schools Schools

Chart showing top five answers, by rank. The remaining answers are in a separate table (below).

Nor was it surprising that “convenience” and “sense of community” followed close behind as top answers, with 224 and 218 responses respectively. In looking at the answers, 80% of those listing “convenience” in the top five referred to Homewood’s proximity to downtown Birmingham, UAB, and a few outside destinations. The remainder referred to convenience to in-town destinations, such as stores, restaurants, and churches. Answers sorted into “Community,” on the other hand, typically either used that exact word or described an intangible sense of connectedness with people in the city, usually neighbors, but often city workers or local businesses.

1. Schools 2. Diversity 3. Creative/progressive culture, yet keep Homewood’s old, small town feeling 4. Shopping/historic business districts 5. Support of independent owned businesses

“Walkability,” a planning and transportation buzzword with apparent real-life merit, earned the #4 spot in respondents’ list, a pay-off for Homewood’s focus on sidewalk installation over the last six years. From context respondents meant the ability to walk (and run and bike) anywhere in town, walk their dogs, have pleasant walks, etc., rather than referring to neighborhoods built around dense shopping cores.

Finally, “Safety,” whose meaning we take at face value but which may refer to policing and fire protection and other factors, earned the last spot of the top five.

The rest of the story

Full survey results

The interesting answers are the ones that didn’t make the top five:  For example, a strong number of answers listed “Diversity” across all five ranks, sometimes spelling out that they valued racial diversity and open-mindedness in schools (as opposed to other OTM systems), sometimes diversity in their neighbors’ point of views and political leanings. Many used the word to refer to a variety of housing styles available, or variety in general (Homewood not a cookie-cutter community).

1. Location – easy access, urban community 2. Walkable – “green,” environmental concerns 3. Amenities – library, parks, community center, shopping 4. Quality of education 5. Sense of Community – good mix of residential, commercial, professional – celebrates history and future

Categories that need further explanation include Charm, etc., which includes a wide variety of answers referring to such physical characteristics as charm, quaintness, historic housing styles and neighborhoods, preservation of cottage-sized houses, and shade-tree lined streets.  The Miscellaneous categories ballooned in the lower ranks with answers ranging from very specific mention of “Accountability” to “Nature Preservation” to “Fitness,” “Progressivism,” and smaller numbers of references to trees and green spaces that didn’t seem to fit the category of Parks. Top mentions are listed on the category.

 

Open letter regarding closed process for hiring consultant B. L. Harbert, March 19, 2017

Council president Bruce Limbaugh, center, with Ward 4 councilmember Barry Smith, during one of two public forums about the $110 million bond issue. The matter is being handled by a “task force” of city officials, and closed to the public.

The full council is voting TOMORROW/MONDAY, March 20th on who will project manage the $110 bond money without the usual procedure of taking it through the Finance committee or having a public hearing. I ask that you take a minute to read the following and then forward to your council person– should you be concerned. The Task Force is recommending Harbert as PM for all of the projects, this is also the company who did the “free study” (which was a seriously detailed 20+ slide PPT analyzing the schools and parks current situation and also against the law to provide free services to a government entity) last year. Your council people are listed at the bottom and forward to friends who also might be concerned how the city is doing business.

Highlights:

  • The task force was put together without a consensus of the entire council and did not have any new council people included.
  • Information on all 5 bids was not given to all council members.
  • The public was unable to see the bids or hear the Q&A between the task force and the bidding companies (The public, including another council person was asked to leave during that portion of each presentation).
  • Normal RFP and bidding procedures were not followed – 1 example: Bidding company usually presents to the entire voting body.

How can the rest of the council people vote when not given all the information??

To My Homewood City Council Representative,

We are requesting from you, council representatives, to reject the motion to accept the recommendation of the task force to name the project manager for the $110M Bond expenditure at the March 20, 2017, City Council Meeting. We understand the time sensitivity of the expenditure, especially for the Parks and Recreations Board, but feel that you need ample time to understand the rationale of the Task Force’s recommendation. We have requested from the Task Force Chairman to supply all of you with the proposals of the three main bidders – Harbert, HPM, and Robins and Morton. The Task Force based their recommendation on compatibility, finance, and track record. Of the members present, they voted unanimously to recommend Harbert.

Harbert definitely had the advantage of compatibility and track record with the City of Homewood. The free study that was performed by Harbert was not a comprehensive study and it violated state laws regarding providing free services when pursuing business from a government entity.

The questions that we wish for you to consider after your study of the proposals forwarded to you by Task Force Chairman, Bruce Limbaugh, are the following:

Were recommendations sought out from other school systems in the state which have had similar projects?
What references have been performed on all three proposals?
Did all proposals include a shared savings component?
How do you define track record? If it is defined as a relationship with the City of Homewood, how could HPM and Robins and Morton compete?
Did the proposals include a conflict of interest?

The $110M bond is of utmost interest to the Homewood Community and you, the representatives, need to intimately know and understand the proposals from the top three bidders. We are asking you to fully vet the Task Force recommendation and not blindly vote on the motion to vote for the mayor to precede with contracts on Monday night We kindly request that you table the vote on March 20 in order to perform your fiduciary duty to the citizens of Homewood to ensure the most wise investment of this massive amount of our money occurs.

A called City Council Meeting on the vote on the Task Force recommendation after fully investigated would be the wise and prudent course of action. I do not know how you would back a vote to which you do not have all of the information.

Concerned Homewood Citizens for Transparency

 

Rosedale repair and renewal, Feb. 21, 2017

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

After a 90-minute meeting Tuesday night, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer pledged to put city effort immediately into fixing broken street lights, replacing missing street signs and completing other small public works projects in Rosedale, where 65+ Homewood residents showed up to talk about maintenance concerns in the historically black, low-income neighborhood.

But he refused to seal that declaration by signing a petition asking for much, much more.

“That’s not really how it works,” McBrayer told member Jeremy Love, a Rosedale resident who since January has been circulating a change.org petition asking for housing help for elderly and disabled, new playgrounds at the Lee Community Center and park, retail/business development, historic recognition, signage and gateways, and funding for an economic development plan similar to one in West Homewood. Love is a member–but apparently a frustrated one–of the Rosedale Community Development Corporation, an advocacy group that has met regularly for years and which officially hosted the mayor and two councilmen at last night’s meeting.

Despite the meeting length, it adjourned with no clear next step and apparent disagreement between two RCDC factions and even among audience members about what course of action to take.

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

The group, led by Dennis Bush, was “moderated” last night by RCDC member Doug Clapp, a Samford classics professor and Rosedale resident who has been working in the neighborhood since 2001. Clapp said it was he, not Love, who invited the mayor and Ward 1 reps Britt Thames and Andy Gwaltney after residents had compiled a list of their concerns during a meeting in November, including a demand for public clean-up of dilapidated properties.

At their request, the city in January identified 13 properties that meet the criteria for formal abatement (public repair or demolition of unsafe structures). The police chief was also given six locations to investigate where there were disabled vehicles or cars parked in yards.

Rosedale resident Mary Edwards, 84, scolds the council for not considering the needs of Rosedale in planning to use the tax and bond windfall.

Rosedale resident Mary Edwards, 84, scolded the council in December for not considering the needs of Rosedale in planning to use the tax and bond windfall.

But the meeting also appeared to materialize after 84-year-old Mary Edwards of Rosedale was allowed to speak at a Dec. 19 council forum about the $110 million bond issue approved for schools, parks and police. Edwards, who has become the face of Rosedale’s grievances in recent news and a WBHM radio feature, asked for a share of the money for Rosedale, shaming the council for its neglect of the area, and asking for a show of hands if anyone thought it was “fair.” Love spoke at a second forum Jan. 30 with a formal–and ambitious–wish list spelled out in the petition. The petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] now has more than 200 signatures.

Love and Edwards appear to have lost patience with the progress of the RCDC.

“We want funding for a plan,” Love told the mayor Tuesday. “[City Council president] Bruce Limbaugh asked for a prioritized list. I am presenting it now, to allocate money for a plan,” he said. “Here and now.”

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

During the meeting Thames and Gwaltney outlined the arduous legal process that allows a government to force the repair of dilapidated property, calling it the “step of last resort.” Edwards later stood up to challenge city officials: “How long will it take for us to get what we asked for?” she said. “Stop putting us on the back burner.” The mayor, who bantered with Edwards about his personal integrity, quoting the Bible, said residents should report problems quickly and through the usual channels such as phone calls and emails–not petitions.

The audience seemed divided on whether abatement and nuisance enforcement were positive steps, however. One resident recalled having a car towed when she was an unemployed single mother taking care of her own mother. “Before you start doing things, you should knock on doors to see what’s going on inside the house,” she said. Another resident recounted having property “taken” through an abatement process, although city officials disputed the details. Housing abatement doesn’t ordinarily give the government title to private property, they said.

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amentiies

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amenities. https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1qnVESEOEs-hlj_6pCs3te5wJ1XQ&ll=33.484650268737425%2C-86.78923485000001&z=16

As described, the abatement process begins by identifying unsafe properties and contacting owners to make necessary repairs. If owners don’t respond, the property can be referred to an Abatement Board for action. At that point, the owner is given 60 days to comply before the matter is referred to the city council. Abatement can include repairs or demolition, with costs attached to the property in the form of a lien. Council decisions can be appealed to state circuit court.

Love was recently appointed by the council to the Ward 1 seat on the city’s Abatement Board.

“If this is what the community wants, then we have the power to do it,” councilman Thames said.