Government at war

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2002

And things started out so well.

Monday night’s Selma City Council meeting had all the makings of normalcy at its best. The mayor made a motion and council agreed.

Don’t be fooled. It was simply a prelude to a council meeting that erupted into one of the most spirited disagreements between Council President George Evans and Mayor James Perkins Jr.

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The meeting started with Perkins’ veto of a council resolution. That resolution, which passed two weeks ago, would have given council the authority to determine the cost of surplus items owned by the city. On top of that, the council would have been granted authorities that could have stretched legal limits.

“It’s something that can’t be fairly and equally applied,” Perkins said.

The council, which passed the resolution on a 6-3 vote, did not even budge. In a unanimous vote, they decided the mayor was right. They voted to uphold his veto.

The move could have sparked an unusual sense of cooperation among the council and mayor — two sides that have fought bitterly over the past 18 months.

Both the council and mayor quickly returned to old ways — all over a resolution that would allow the city to hire two finance companies to refinance the city’s long-term debts.

Perkins, in his report to council, placed five spiraled notebooks on a desk in council chambers.

“Here are the proposals that were made to the city,” he said. “If you want to read them, they will be in the conference room in my office.”

Meanwhile, Perkins had already drafted a resolution allowing Merchant Capital Investment Bankers to become senior managers and The Frazier-Lanier Company to become co-managers to refinance the city’s debt.

Council could have immediately voted on the resolution. However, as is normal, they opened a period of discussion, and Evans took the lead.

“I have a real problem with this resolution,” Evans said. He said the booklets provided by Perkins would not allow council members to ask questions about how each bank would handle the financing.

“I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m on the board of SouthTrust [one of the banks that asked to help re-finance the city’s debt], but I’ve said I would abstain if we were to vote on them,” Evans said. “I am concerned with how we had five banks and we eliminated all but two.”

Perkins, who made a note on a piece of paper during Evans’ statements, felt Evans was accusing him of being unfair in awarding the work to the two chosen financial groups.

“I didn’t say that,” Evans shot back. “Take that back.”

Perkins didn’t let Evans finish his statement. “That’s how I interpreted it,” he said.

Perkins then described how the executive branch of government was simply making a recommendation to the council.

“If I recall, when you were superintendent, you had to go through this same sort of thing,” Perkins said to Evans, who formerly served as superintendent of the Dallas County School System.

That set off another nerve with Evans.

“But I would always give my recommendations to the board before they came to the meetings,” he said.

According to some council members, Perkins did not make proposals available to the council before their meeting.

“You don’t have to lecture me,” Perkins responded to Evans.

“I listened to you and respect you,” Evans said back. “Now all I ask is that you respect me.”

Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, often Perkins’ biggest ally on the council, brought up the previous administration of Mayor Joe Smitherman. She said Smitherman didn’t give council a chance to work through a $4.6 million bond issue, and council just accepted it.

“Everything Mrs. Crenshaw said was a lie,” council member Glen Sexton said. “We made a list with all the department heads of what they needed with the bond money.”

After that discussion faded, Perkins stepped aside for the podium to allow Henry Hicks, the city’s code enforcer, to answer questions from the council.

“You know what, I don’t even know what this is about,” Perkins said about Hicks appearing before council. “I didn’t even know this was going to come up.”

Perkins statement was an obvious jab at council members who accused the mayor of not presenting them with information on the finance companies before the meeting.

Evans exploded.

“That’s because you walked out of our work session,” Evans said. “We were going to tell you about it, but you just left.”

The council president, charged with keeping order during meetings, wasn’t finished.

“I don’t appreciate you saying that,” he shouted. “I don’t ever lie on you, and you don’t need to lie on me.”

During Evans statements, Perkins walked out of council chambers.

“I’ll be in my office if you need me,” he said.

Eventually, council did get to business and Perkins did reappear before council to answer questions.