2010-06-17 / Front Page

Mayor asks council to remove his name from building honoring Edward B. Pope

By KIP BURKE news editor

At the urging of Mayor Willie Burns, the Washington City Council voted Monday night to change the name of the city’s conference center back to The Pope Center.

Although Councilman Ames Barnett first made the motion to change the name back, Burns asked him to hold off, and late in the meeting had Councilman Nathaniel Cullars, who had originally proposed the name change, officially move to change the name back, removing Burns’ name.

“Although I appreciate the gesture,” Burns read from a statement, “I don’t want to do anything more to distract from our main goal for Washington, which is economic development, so our citizens can have jobs and a better place to live. The name change has become a distraction, and I want to end that distraction tonight. I’m going to ask Councilman Cullars to make a motion to return the name of the Pope Center the way it was.”

The motion was approved 5 to 0, with Councilman Edward B. Pope Jr., the former long-time mayor’s son, again recusing himself because of the conflict in interest his vote would represent.

The council also discussed concerns over the proposals received to build the first seven homes on the rebuilt Rusher Street. The contract had been awarded to an out-of-town contractor, with a local builder, Sim Dill, being ranked second although his proposal had the lowest price per square foot. City redevelopment plan manager Barbara Bacon rose to say that she had been widely criticized for the choice, but explained again that she and Main Street Manager David Jenkins were only two members of a four-member grading panel that judged the proposals. “I don’t make any decisions,” she said. “The proposal process was in place before I got here.”

After the council discussed the differences between a request for proposal and a sealed bid, Councilman Barnett said that he had taken all the proposals and met with Bacon and Jenkins, who were two of the four people grading the proposals. Barnett said he discovered that the two outside graders had given lower marks to the lowest-cost proposal because they thought Dill could not actually build the homes for that price, while the two local proposal graders had given Dill full marks. “We should put more weight for local companies and local hires,” Barnett said. He urged that the city attorney look at the alreadyawarded contract to see if the proposals could be re-graded, and that the process be changed before letting the next contract.

City Attorney Barry Fleming spoke at length about the difference between a request for proposal and a request for bids. “To some degree the city can set whatever process for proposals it wants to, but after it sets the process, it needs to go by it.” He said that the council’s concerns would certainly be considered for the next round of proposals.

“If there’s a loophole we can use to use a local bidder, we should use it,” Councilman Kimberly Rainey said. “I work with federal money, and there’s always a loophole.”

During public comments, former council member Henry Harris stood and read from the GMA Code of Ethics that the council had agreed to abide by. “All city officials shall conduct themselves at all times with dignity and with respect for others, in a manner to ensure appropriate decorum in the deliberations of city business…” he read. “No city official shall be disrespectful to any other official and shall carefully avoid reference to personalities…”

After reading the complete code, Harris asked, “When do you plan to implement that?”

When asked if there was a city parliamentarian to keep meetings straight, City Attorney Fleming said that he was the parliamentarian, but councilmen must ask for his participation. “If anyone disagrees, they can call on the parliamentarian, but they have to ask. They have to appeal. He also said, from his experience in other municipal governments and the state legislature, Washington’s council is “not bad.”

Councilman Pope presented a proposal by which council members would present information ahead of time on motions to be voted on, and to move to hold a first and second reading of proposed motions prior to being voted on. When the proposal was put into a motion, the vote was split 3 to 3, with District 2 councilmen in favor and District 1 councilmen opposed. Burns refused to break the tie, saying “Y’all work it out.”

In unanimous agreements, the council voted to approve the flood damage prevention ordinance as discussed at the recent retreat, and authorized the mayor to give tax relief in the case of Anderson’s Service Station. The council also approved a request by the Robert Toombs House Historic Site to fire a cannon on Saturday, July 3, and approved a pouring license for the Lucky Day CafĂ© on Alabama Street.

At the beginning of the meeting, the council also approved a resolution to apply for a USDA Section 533 grant for housing preservation, and a resolution to apply for a Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) grant to improve owner-occupied homes.

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