Council debates work sessions

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 22, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

After four hours of accusations and innuendo, the Selma City Council proceeded to attempt to handle business during its regular meeting Monday, where one council member even asked another if they were a member of a racist organization.

Councilwoman Jannie Venter, who said in the first meeting of the year she wanted to leave the antics of the council in the past, asked Councilman Cecil Williamson a pointed question. “Are you a member of the League of The South?”

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Williamson never changed his expression, ignoring her. The exchange drew laughter and applause from an astonished council chamber. Williamson drew the ire of Venter after Williamson questioned fair housing affirmative action language in a resolution Mayor James Perkins Jr. sought to pass that would offer $5,000 in assistance to persons seeking to purchase homes.

The reason for the resolution, Perkins said, was to meet the requirements of the Alabama Department of Economic Development, where the office of planning and development hopes to apply for funding for housing assistance. The exchange gave Perkins a break from heated discussion with Council President George Evans, during which Evans expressed disappointment with Perkins over a statement Evans said he never made.

The center of that debate rose earlier in the meeting when Perkins alleged Evans was negligent in his duties in calling “work sessions,” during which details of the mayor’s needs for council approval could be heard.

“There have been many critical issues we’ve needed to deal with that we haven’t been able to, because you haven’t called a work session,” Perkins said. “You’ve said you were not going to call any more work sessions.”

Evans said that was not true.

“What I said was I would call a work session if a member of the council requested one,” Evans said. “Why can’t we have work sessions like we were already having. We instituted them six years ago, and we’re not having a meeting unless it’s necessary.”

Evans became disenchanted with assembling the council during the informal meetings after the first work session in November 2006 erupted into a shouting match at City Hall where police were called. No arrests or reports were written since the argument was diffused, city officials said.

The matter was brought back to the forefront during Monday’s meeting because Perkins began hosting his own work sessions with city department heads present, at the same time Evans had been holding work sessions. Council members were invited, but only several of the nine members attended.

Evans said he never got any information about Perkins’ work session last week, and his questions about the mayor’s request for approval of a $350,000 general obligation warrant were legitimate.

Perkins said the reason Evans didn’t attend the work session last week was so he “could halt progress.”

“It’s a political season,” Perkins said. “I’m okay with that. All I try to do is cooperate with you (Evans). The truth is my defense.”

“Your intention is to destroy me,” Evans said. “If we’re not going to handle the city’s business, the citizens won’t want any of us.”

Councilwoman Dr. Geraldine Allen said her questions were not political.

“I have not been able to make some of the work sessions,” Allen said. “If I have a question, I should be able to have it answered. I’m just trying to conduct the business of the city.”

Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw said the work sessions are where all the debate should take place, not the floor of the council chambers during Monday night meetings.

“I get despondent a lot of times,” Crenshaw said. “People are actually tired of this. Since he (Perkins) is actually the target during the meetings, let’s have them on Thursday, and everybody come and target him then. Let them come and throw darts then.”

Perkins said he was convinced “regardless of what I do, it’s not going to be enough” to get cooperation from the council.

“The reason for the work sessions are to eliminate these long, drawn out discussions. But we can be here ’til midnight. I’m rested.”