Selma Mayor responds to NLO Cemetery situation, debris cleanup

Published 11:47 am Friday, May 5, 2023

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Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. released a statement Thursday about the city’s handling of the New Live Oak Cemetery and debris cleanup across the area from the January 12 tornado.

“The January 12th tornado did a tremendous amount of  damage and created over 300,000 cubic yards of debris,” Perkins said. “Within 5 days, the utilities were  restored in all facilities that could receive power. Within three months, the administration  executed all federal and state requirements to complete the first phase of cleanup,  coordinated with the State to remove the debris saving the city millions, and was able to  maximize our reimbursement from FEMA at 100%.

“Within three weeks after completing the  first phase cleanup, the administration completed the Request for Proposal process which  included writing and issuing the RFP, receiving and evaluating all responses, selecting and  presenting the low responsible bidder to the City Council. The overarching goal is to make  the cemetery safely accessible by everyone before Mother’s Day and complete the personal  property debris removal by the end of June.

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Perkins said the RFP fell in the hands of the Selma City Council, with whom he filed a lawsuit against last month.

“The City Council has taken up the RFP for  approval in two meetings and still has not approved the bid,” Perkins said. “Mind you, the RFP receiving  and evaluating team consisted of the clerk, public works, planning and development,  treasurer, and city attorney with FEMA providing process oversight.”

Perkins, into his third term as Mayor, gave the reasons for what he perceives as missteps by the  city council.

“First, the city council  asked for an engineering company to review the review team’s work,” Perkins said. “That was done and the  engineering company agreed with the process and decision. Now they want their outside  attorney to review the decision and he says that he will not recommend acceptance of the  administration’s recommendation until he has reviewed all detailed bids and the process,  and he is satisfied

“I am confident that the team has completed our work to the satisfaction of  the funding agency and if allowed to do our work, we could have easily met the set goals.  But because of these constant delays, at this point, there is no way to complete the cemetery  work by Mother’s Day because the city council continues to delay the process.”

Perkins explained the dangers going forward removing debris.

“There are great risks with moving forward to clearing the cemetery debris in advance of  awarding the bid to the lowest responsible qualified contractor to perform the tasks,” Perkins said.. “Further,  allowing open public access to the cemetery carries great risks to those who enter the  cemetery. I understand the emotional toll people are experiencing; however, the combination  of risks must not and will not be ignored.

“Because of these constant delays, the city is using its limited resources to reduce the risk of  harm to citizens entering the cemetery. However, we cannot guarantee one’s safety.  Nonetheless, despite the delays with city council approval, I intend to keep my word to the  public and open the cemetery before Mother’s Day. The limit on access will be in areas  where equipment is being used for cleanup.

City of Selma Cemetery Director Reginald Wells said at the Recreation Committee meeting on Thursday over 70 oak trees are down at the cemetery and six cars are limited to five family members each for funeral services, but not graveside services.

“I know people are upset, but we’re trying to keep people safe,” Wells said. “You’ll be amazed how people find ways to get into the cemetery. Archaeologists also have to come in and examine the root balls for artifacts.”