Councilman raises budget questions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Discrepancies totaling a missing $21,000 are evident in copies of Selma mayor’s Budget To Actual Report from June through September,

a review of the documents show.

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The Special Projects account, 1.6000.100.70, allotting $8,000 in potential expenses by the city council, has been combined by the mayor into what he deems is his &8220;Special Projects Discretionary Fund.&8221;

This is a nonexistent account, but a blended verbiage culled from two independent accounts, said Councilman Reid Cain.

One of which, the Special Projects account, must be approved by the city council prior to expenditures.

From July through September, in an approved ($8,000) but not funded Special Projects account, expenses went from $6,900 to $21,000 to $3,300.

No accounting of these changes is being offered by James Perkins Jr, Selma’s mayor, Cain said.

These changes must be approved by council, he said. Neither notice or approval of these changes exist.

In an interview earlier last week, Perkins said he has given an accounting for the expenditures. &8220;He (Cain) keeps asking for figures that he’s been given more than once -the drama is that he makes implications of conspiracy and cover-up, and he just keeps coming and coming with it,&8221; Perkins said. &8220;Every month the council gets the figures from both (mayor’s office/city council) discretionary budgets for special expenditures. It’s accounted for. Many times over I’ve asked the auditors – come look – do your job.

There’s nothing there. If there’s human errors, we’ll correct them.&8221;

Where’s the money?

In a review of the documents, the Special Projects account records show $7,313.67 was spent from the account in May without review or approval by the city council.

In June, $6,765.55 was spent, again without legally required approval or review by the city council, Cain said.

July records continue this pattern, with $6,915.55 being spent.

By August, outgoing expenses from an account budgeted to a maximum of $8,000, all unreviewed and unapproved, register at $20,974.11, according to the documents.

September records total the year-to-date expenses at $3,315.55, leaving unaccounted for additions and withdrawals on record.

Budget amendments, which occur throughout the period, must come before the council for approval; none did.

The mayor’s office is permitted a discretionary fund, city account 1.6000.0.24. His discretionary fund has increased to $15,000, up from the previous $10,000 annually, approved by the council. The mayor is also permitted a contingency fund, account 1.6000.0.29, for miscellaneous expenses that may occur for $3,600.

Travel on the mayor’s dime

In March of this year, the city council, a city governing body which is responsible for Selma’s finances, property, laws, ordinances, policy and codes, voted that &8220;after the utilization of funds in the Council travel budget, Council members will be responsible for self-pay of additional travel this year.&8221;

The motion passed with a majority vote of the Council. Dissenting votes were cast by Councilmen Sam Randolph and Johnnie Leashore, and Councilwomen Bennie Ruth Crenshaw and Jannie Vinter.

Although they cast dissenting votes, they were still legally bound by Council decision.

By April, President George Evans announced $1,500 remained in the Council’s travel budget.

The Alabama League of Municipalities’ Huntsville Convention was approaching and travel to it bore discussion at the Council’s April 11 meeting.

In business agenda item XII, Randolph stated he would like to recommend that any Council members interested in making this trip should pay for their own hotel and travel expenses and use the funds left for registration. Registration cost $325 and Randolph yielded his attendance. Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw also declined to attend and offered that she would journey to the National Black Caucus Conference in Orlando, Fla., in June and would seek funding from her constituents for that travel.

Two weeks later, in April, both Leashore and Vinter accepted $1,014.40 each, $2,028.80, to travel to Huntsville, Ala. The mayor provided them both with money to the Alabama League of Municipalities 2005 Annual Convention, but not from his own discretionary account, as he has gone on record saying.

On April 27, 2005, approval for monies from Special Project Account 1.6000.100.70 were signed off on by the mayor, who is not free to access that account without prior approval from the council.

He had not secured that approval or permission.

In conflict with March’s approved travel behavior by councilmembers, both Council persons went on to accept per diem rates of $75/day, a rate afforded them for out-of-state travel, totaling $300. In state w/lodging is afforded $40/day, this journey totaling $160.

In state without lodging rates are $20/day, equaling $80, for per diem discrepancies of $140-220 per councilperson, as the event occurred within state lines.

In June, the mayor used funding from his own discretionary fund, a fund he is free to access and which is maintained for his disposal, to send Councilwoman Crenshaw to Orlando.

She accepted $1,370.14 for the journey, creating, like the May travels.

&8220;When we vote on matters and the very people who sit on that council disregard that process, we have a breakdown in due process,&8221; Cain said.

For his part, Perkins takes exception to the implication that there was wrongdoing as a result of the travel monies.

Council meeting theatrics

Police, once a presence at City Council meetings, will return as a result of the shouting and mayhem that occurred at last Monday’s meeting.

&8220;The mayor is the reason they have not been there,&8221; Evans said. &8220;But his sister was yelling at me at the last council meeting and I don’t like to see the mayor out of control, accusing me of illegally doing something with the agenda or illegally calling him down in my meeting. The meetings are on the radio now and people heard it and they know the truth; I’m proud and happy that the citizens know what actually happened.

Cain said if you pass a line item budget and make changes without Council approval, you’ve got a departmental budget without any supervision.

At the last council meeting, Councilman Leashore asked if anyone would &8220;get a beating&8221; if they didn’t have items approved.

There is due process that can correct wrongdoing &8220;if that is what we’re looking at,&8221; Cain said. &8220;Council members can be impeached or put in jail. But we still don’t know – because any questions to the mayor trigger yelling and name-calling. Anytime I’ve asked for an explanation of anything relating to or pertaining to the finances of the City, I’ve been told it’s none of my business, hissed at, called names.&8221;

Perkins maintains he has made the figures available to the Council.

He calls the allegations attacks on his character that must stop.

He said that one thing he’s learned in politics is &8220;if you repeat a lie long enough, someone will start to believe it. I came into the business with a decent name and I’m going to keep it. I don’t think this guy’s motivation is honorable.

He’s trying to paint a negative picture of me so I’m not re-electable, but that didn’t work before either.&8221;

But Cain says the money is not accounted for.