Mayor threatens boycott of cable company

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Selma’s mayor said he watches a lot of C-SPAN, but will happily give the channel up if it means getting lower rates for Selma’s consumers on cable.

“I am seriously considering calling for a boycott,” Mayor James Perkins Jr. said.

In the last few months, the Selma City Council has attempted to discuss rates with the one cable company in Selma, Charter Communications.

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Several months ago, after the city met with the company, Charter increased its rates in the Selma area by $2 according to Councilman Cecil Williamson.

The city responded by attempting to meet with the company again. City Attorney Jimmy Nunn, along with Perkins and Councilwoman Geraldine Allen, have tried to contact the cable giant to set up another meeting.

“We left several messages with them,” Nunn told the Council at last night’s meeting.

Perkins said he has tried to contact the company’s president, only to be stonewalled.

“Charter is really beginning to irritate me,” he told the council. “I asked the City Attorney to look into what would be the legal consequences of calling for a boycott of Charter. I will lead by example. I will turn Charter off.”

Perkins’ speech drew applause and cheers from the audience assembled in Council Chambers.

Councilman Johnnie Leashore responded favorably Perkins’ suggestion also.

“Rabbit ears aren’t dead,” he said.

Council President George Evans suggested that the entire Council get behind Perkins’ proposal.

“I would think the council ought to join (the boycott),” Evans said.

Williamson has called for action by the city before, even suggesting – half jokingly – that the city support a satellite dish program for city consumers.

“We definitely need another company,” he said.

Williamson said Selma pays $2.50 more than Prattville or Montgomery for its cable, a difference he attributes to the company’s lack of competition in the area.

At the last meeting, Nunn was commissioned with contacting the company and setting up a meeting with Charter administrators. No one has called him back, he reported to the council.

“The point is, we’re really trying to work through this process,” Perkins said.

Without communication with Charter, that wasn’t possible he said.

“At some point it gets to be kind of disrespectful,” Perkins said.

Nunn told the Council he would continue to try and contact the company and set up a meeting.

In other business:

The city passed an ordinance to apply for a $500,000 community block grant to provide sewer and drainage improvements in East Selma. The grant would require a $50,000 matching fund. The resolution, R-161-04/05, was passed unanimously.

Approved a $2,500 expenditure to prepare roads for paving.

Voted to buy three new police cars. The original resolution called for a lease purchase agreement, paying for the vehicles over a four year period at a cost of more than $80,000. Williamson noted that it may be cheaper to purchase the vehicles at once, saving the city several thousand dollars. Perkins reviewed the resolution, and requested figures about the Selma Police Department’s budget. He agreed with Williamson and the resolution was passed in an amended form.

Heard from Public Works Director Henry Hicks about the progression of the city’s change to curbside garbage collection. Hicks told the council his department was working hard to get carts distributed to residents by Friday. Hicks reported that the city would be providing 6,000 carts to all of Selma’s residences. The service is scheduled to start on May 2. “We’ll be ready to go,” Hicks said. Council member Reid Cain asked when the city would start realizing savings on the new service. The mayor told Cain the figures were already provided to the council. Other council members suggested Cain meet individually with the mayor about the issue.

Evans asked Hicks how General Services determined whether a residence was occupied. Hicks said anytime a report is received from the community, a cart wasn’t replaced. “We try to look at the house and try to tell if somebody lives there or not,” he said.

Approved to disburse $111,688.59 in Oil Lease Money to build and refurbish playgrounds around the city. The mayor outlined five different sites and included in his plan money for basketball courts. A portion of the money would also be used to repair the fountain in front of City Hall. Perkins told the council it would prevent problems with children playing in the park.

The plan also provides security for the sites, in the form of crossing guards trained for that purpose.

In the past, the city divided the money between council members, allowing them to use it in their individual wards. While they had discretion over the funds, the money was earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

The mayor has asked the city to approve a similar suggestion in the past.

The Council voted 8-2 for the plan, with Evans and Cain dissenting.

Evans explained that individual council members should have discretion over the funds, and the money could still be used for developing the city’s parks.

Allen was concerned that she wouldn’t have the money to provide for road repairs.

Perkins told her that the city already had a budget for fixing the streets, and asked her to provide a list so he could get them fixed.

Later in the meeting, Evans pointed out that he should have made a motion to split the money before voting on a motion to provide for the park equipment.

“You got me,” Evans said. “Next time I’ll think about it.”

Perkins laughed.

“I accept that in the spirit it was given,” he told Evans.

After passing the plan, a group of youths in the audience broke out into applause.

“The young people were thanking you for your positive vote,” Perkins said.

Expressed concern over the placement of a communications tower planned for construction in Selma’s Historic District. Perkins explained to the council that the plan was against several of the city’s zoning laws. He said the E-911 Board and Dallas County went ahead with the plan despite the city’s protests.

“I could not support this project,” he said. “This tower would violate the historic ordinance.”

Williamson said the Homeland Security measures passed by the federal government may supersede the city’s right to block the construction.

“The Patriot Act, I think, has taken away a lot of our freedoms,” he said.

The Council requested that Nunn look into the issue.

Discussed repairs on Crescent Hill Drive. The road recently washed out, during flooding earlier this month. Perkins said the Selma Water Board had discussed the issue, because it was uncertain what caused the washout. Perkins is the head of the Selma Water Authority.

The Board had to replace a water main in the area. The board contends, Perkins said, that the road washed out and damaged the main. There was some conversation, he said, that the main may have broken and caused the road to wash out instead. The Water Board has rejected that idea, he told the city.

“It’s time to move forward,” he said.

Finally approved the city’s new garbage ordinance, which is scheduled to begin on May 2.

Extended a contract with DHL Analytical to identify Brownfields Sites in Selma. Brownfields are former industrial sites that are considered polluted. Identified sites are eligible for federal renewal funds. DHL has held a contract with Selma for 20 months. Nunn told the Council that the Environmental Protection Agency suggested the city renew the contract. Selma pays DHL $3,500 per month.

The extension was approved, with Williamson, Crenshaw and Cain voting against it.

“I’m just looking for results,” Crenshaw said.

Discussed nullifying a consent decree with the Selma City School Board. According to the decree, the city must appoint a majority black board and a majority white board on alternating years. This year, the city is required to appoint a majority black board. Nunn said he spoke with the Board’s attorney and they determined that the decree could be lifted if both entities agree to it. In the past, the city has been unable to appoint a majority white council because of the lack of white applicants to the board. Nunn reported that the board was willing to nullify the agreement as well.

The council will meet as a whole with the Board to discuss it later.

At the last meeting, Nunn was asked to approach the board about the decree because of the end of two board member’s terms.

Nunn was also asked to approach the Board about becoming elected, instead of appointed. Nunn said the board felt it would compromise their diversity if they were elected. The Selma Council will still hold public forums on the subject later.

Discussed the city’s livestock laws. The city currently allows a limited number of herd animals within the city limits. The council asked Nunn to review it at the last council meeting. Nunn suggested to the council that the changes in livestock laws be applied to the city’s new leash law to save money on publication costs. All city laws must be published in The Selma Times-Journal after the council approves it.

Put together solutions to the city’s Summer Employment Program. In the past, the city has provided salaries for a number of youths, training them to work at area businesses. This year the city will be seeking sponsorships for the program, by asking area businesses to provide jobs to the city’s youth.

Set a time to interview applicants for the Board of Education. The city will be meeting with them on May 4, from 3:30 to 5:50. Each applicant will be given 20 minutes.

Discussed the city’s upcoming audit. Cain requested the mayor provide the city with information on whether or not the city has a projected deficit or surplus for the year. Cain said he’s requested the information several times, but hasn’t gotten it. “My door is always open,” Perkins said. Evans suggested he meet with the mayor and Cain to resolve the issue.

Discussed the Selma Fire Department’s budget. According to Williamson, figures show the SFD is at about 60 percent of it’s salary budget for the year, 10 percent more than budgeted for the time of year.

Perkins said he was aware of the situation and working toward a solution.

“There is a problem. I have discussed it with the chief and I have not gotten a satisfactory reply,” Perkins said. “I am real concerned about it.”

Perkins said he would discuss it with Williamson later.

Heard a request from Nicole Sherrer. Sherrer was representing a group supporting a moratorium on the death penalty in Alabama. “We want to encourage the community to be supportive of a bill that Sen. Hank Sanders has on the floor,” Sherrer said. She introduced a resolution to the council, and requested they vote on it at the next meeting.

Pledged discretionary funds to the Police Athletic League to support a trip to Lexington, Ky. The League is expected to send two teams to the National PAL basketball championship.

Det. Dorothy Cowan, who leads the program, requested $7,000 from the council to provide room and board for two teams or about 35 students. Several council members pledged discretionary funds to the project.