Council’s oversight rules called into question by mayor

Published 2:17 pm Friday, November 20, 2020

During its work session Thursday night, the Selma City Council got an earful from Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., who took exception with the council’s rules requiring the council president to sign off on contracts and the requirement that purchases of $5,000 or more be approved by the council, as well as the previous council’s rules regarding the expenditure of COVID-19 funds.

“The council cannot by law interject itself into the administrative processes of municipal government,” Perkins said. “That’s illegal.”

Where the process for spending COVID-19 funds was concerned, Perkins noted that there was no official documentation of the process – no resolution, ordinance or even official minutes from the June 30 meeting – which was only defined via an email from former Selma City Council President Pro Tem Angela Benjamin.

Perkins asserted that the email outlining the process was dated Nov. 10, after the previous council left office, but Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas pushed back, saying that Selma City Attorney Major Madison, former Selma Mayor Darrio Melton and others received the email on June 30, which included informal minutes taken by Benjamin in the absence of Selma City Clerk Ivy Harrsion.

Indeed, on July 2, The Selma Times-Journal received the email from Benjamin, on which Madison, Melton, Harrison, Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade and former Selma City Council President Corey Bowie were copied, outlining the process for spending federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

“While I am not the records keeper or minutes taker, I have decided to share with you unofficially what the discussion and vote was,” Benjamin said in the email. “As you are aware, official minutes do not generate from the city council and everyone should be alert at council meetings and on calls…”

Thomas asserted that the information distributed by Benjamin was supposed to be drafted into a formal document by the city clerk and city attorney.

Still, Perkins asserted that the procedure was not properly laid out and is illegal.

“The council members cannot interject themselves into the day-to-day affairs of municipal government and that’s what I’m being told this is supposed to be and I’m saying, ‘No, that is not correct,’” Perkins said elsewhere in the meeting. “There is a correct way to do this and this is not it.”

Perkins also bemoaned the fact that there have been delays in approving requested expenditures due to the council’s $5,000 oversight requirement, as well as the requirement that the council president sign off on orders, both of which were implemented due to Melton’s refusal to handle such duties.

But Wade asserted that the requested expenditures – one for roughly $400 for COVID-related training and another for $9,000 for a “temperature security gate” – were rejected because the council has to sign off on all COVID-related expenditures.

“I take exception to all of this,” Perkins said.

For his part, Selma City Councilman Michael Johnson rushed to support Perkins’ calls for previous policies to be reexamined, saying “a lot of things were totally out of control” under the previous council.

Selma City Councilman Sam Randolph, however, lamented the fact that documentation is missing from legally-held council meetings and wondered – without calling names – if someone was slacking on their job.

“We’ve got to be accountable for the city’s finances,” Randolph said. “I’m talking about the former mayor, he took a lot of control with the city’s finances. He wanted to just spend money without coming to the council for approval. I’m not a politically-correct person, but it seems like somebody wasn’t doing their job.”

Elsewhere in the meeting, Lemarkus Snow, owner of Snow’s Cleaning Service and dedicated volunteer, demanded compensation for the work he did across multiple wards following Hurricane Zeta, work he said was approved by the council and legally contracted out.

“Nobody ever told me to stop working,” Snow said. “My contract wasn’t false…I’m not a lawyer, only thing I am is a contractor that works under the City of Selma…I know I did work and I think I should be compensated for the work I’ve done. I acted in good faith…and I think I should just be compensated for the work I did.”

Snow said he has run into “roadblocks” in his attempts to address the issue with Madison, who asserted that he has never been approached by Snow regarding the contracts in question.

“He’s never approached me about a contract, he’s never asked me for payment of a contract,” Madison said. “I’m at a loss to respond any other way than that.”

Madison said he would need details regarding what work Snow did, as well as answers to questions regarding the proper authorization of the work, which Thomas claimed was approved by the council with contracts signed by Bowie.

“The work that he did, it was signed off on by the president of the council,” Thomas said. “He signed off on it because it was an emergency.”

For her part, Selma City Councilwoman Lesia James regretted the fact that the new council was being put in a tough position, but said Snow should be paid for his work.

“We need to look into this real closely, this is a serious matter,” James said. “We need to pay our debts. If we owe Snow Cleaning Service, we need to pay them.”