After receiving the state’s list of conditions for transitional aid which included the dissolution of the Municipal Utilities Authority and slicing the Community Development department into two separate departments, Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, called for a discussion, during last Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“We received a copy of the MoU [memorandum of understanding], I’d like to schedule a discussion to talk about the MoU,” said Morris. Charles Thomas, city’s business administrator, said the city council has to sign off on the agreement, so a discussion is bound to happen. Morris called for a discussion after seeing the unprecedented demands the state is placing on the city.
Killing the Municipal Utilities Authority
The state, which has awarded the city $23 million to fill a budget gap for the current fiscal year, wants the city to get rid of the MUA because it views it as a useless layer of government, according to the MoU. “The Municipality’s MUA appears to the Division to be an unneeded layer of government that addresses functions that could be undertaken by the City without the additional expenses associated with that government authority,” read the document that was sent to the city last week.
The authority garnered a great deal of notoriety when it decided to fund a portion of the expenses for an India excursion for Erik Lowe, director of the authority, and Jeffery Jones, city’s mayor. Prior to that the authority in 2011 funneled $5,000 to a local city church with political connections to run a summer program – two board members of the authority were congregants at the church.
The state wants the city to submit a plan and a timeline for the dissolution of the MUA no later than May 1st, 2014. If the city does not want to disintegrate the authority, the business administrator must “file an explanation as to why dissolution is not being pursued,” reads the document.
If the business administrator fails to provide an explanation or plan to dissolve the authority the state will step in kill the authority.
Breaking Community Development into two
“City Council shall amend the City code to abolish the Department of Community Development as it exists and create a Department of Community Development and a Department of Economic Development as soon as possible,” reads the document.
The state details what divisions will be inside each of the newly created departments: inside the Economic Development Department will be Division of Economic Development, Division of Redevelopment, Historic Preservation and Division of Cultural and Community Affairs; inside the Community Development Department will be Division of Housing, Division of Community Improvement and Division of Planning and Zoning.
In recent years the mismanagement of the Community Development department has cost the city millions of dollars in federal housing money. Most recently, the city settled a case for $312,000 over the bungled firing of a former division head.
“It is in the Municipality’s best interest to provide for a singular focus on economic development issues with a department head that is of comparable stature to other department heads within the Municipality,” according to the state.
The state also wants the city to end longevity pay for non-contract employees and elected officials: “supplemental pay for elected officials and non-contractual employees shall not be increased,” reads the document. During the past weeks, the business administrator flirted with the idea of introducing a longevity pay-freeze, only to have it pulled before the resolution went before the council members.
State officials also reiterated some items that were on last year’s agreement: pay-to-play ordinance, parade cost recoup ordinance, and special police ordinance. The state wants the city to pass an ordinance that would curb contribution of contractors to political campaigns; it wants parade organizers to pay some of the costs to cover the clean-up and security cost for the event; and it wants the city to pass an ordinance that would allow the police department to hire special police officers – part-time cops with full police power.
“This MoU is quite stringent and also impacts some extreme changes to our ordinances and departments,” said Thomas. Responding to the business administrator’s characterization, Morris said, “Extreme is an understatement.”