By identical 5-2 votes Monday night, the Pine Bluff City Council approved waiving competitive bidding and allowing Mayor Shirley Washington to contract with a company to tear down the former America’s Best Inn at 2700 E. Harding Ave., and to contract with a consultant to research landline telephone expenses with an eye toward saving money.
Alderman Bruce Lockett and Alderwoman Thelma Walker cast no votes in both cases, with Lockett saying he objected to the waiver of competitive bidding because it does not create an image of integrity and transparency in the minds of constituents and, in his words, “smacks of cronyism.”
He made the comments initially when the council was voting on the proposed agreement with TLC Communications, a Pine Bluff-based company that worked with the city’s Finance Department in 2010 when a new phone system was installed. Finance Director Steve Miller said TLC owner Trisha Childress was able to find savings of more than $30,000.
Miller handed out a breakdown of the amount the city pays for landline telephone service, which showed that the bills have increased about 20 percent since 2015.
That breakdown showed that in 2015, Pine Bluff paid AT&T $97.668.57; paid $108,041.60 in 2016 and so far this year has paid $115,396.47.
Childress said one of the things she would look at would be the movement of police and fire offices due to the renovation of the Joe Thomas Public Safety building, and then the movement back.
“Sometimes when you move out of a place, you forget about the phone lines,” she said.
In return for her services, Childress will be paid 20 percent of the savings on phone bills for one year.
“If I don’t find anything, you owe me nothing,” she said.
The second ordinance, which was due for only its first reading, will allow the mayor to use a $50,000 funding opportunity from Go Forward Pine Bluff to hire Wagner Construction Co. to tear down the abandoned motel that has been declared a public nuisance by the city.
According to the ordinance, the city has refrained from tearing down the structure because the cost would have been prohibitive, estimated at more than $100,000.
Wagner Construction is the same company that tore down the building owned by Garland Trice earlier this year.
Alderman Bill Brumett, who chairs the council’s Ordinances and Resolutions Committee, moved to place the ordinance on both a second and third reading because the Go Forward funding called for beginning demolition by Dec. 17.
With Lockett voting no, Washington cast the sixth vote to advance the ordinance, and Lockett again complained about waiving competitive bidding.
He also said that the agreement calls for the city to provide trucks to haul away the debris and to provide police security for the equipment, which would drive up the total cost to what the initial estimate of $100,000 was.
“It would not drive the costs up that much,” Washington said, adding that the city has another source of funds for the work in addition to the money from Go Forward.
Alderman Steven Mays, who voted for the ordinance, said that this would be the last time this year he would vote to waive competitive bidding because Lockett, who also represents Ward Four, was against waving competitive bidding.
“The building needs to come down,” Mays said.
With Alderman Donald Hatchett absent Monday, Brumett, Mays and aldermen Glen Brown Jr., Lloyd Holcomb and Win Trafford voted in favor of the ordinance as it passed 5-2.
After the meeting, Washington apologized to Sam Whitfield, who had signed up to speak against the ordinance before the meeting but was overlooked. She allowed him to speak afterward.
Whitfield, the brother of Police Chief Ivan Whitfield, said he was “ashamed of this council.”
He said that at every council meeting, “certain members come here and vote on ordinances and resolutions waiving competitive bidding and the contracts all go to white companies. What black companies have gotten contracts?”
He also said that Brown and Holcomb “have hidden agendas and is doing things without talking to your constituents.”
In other business Monday, the council voted to give full-time city employees a $500 Christmas bonus, before taxes, and a $250 bonus before taxes to part-time employees who work at least 20 hours a week.
Lockett was the only member of the council to vote against a resolution adopting the 2018 municipal budget, saying as he did two weeks ago that he could not support a budget without a purchasing director or purchasing department.
At the last council meeting, five members voted to approve a resolution to put the position of purchasing director, which Washington had eliminated from the 2018 budget, back in. Washington vetoed that resolution last Friday, saying that existing city ordinances are sufficient.
Walker said she would vote for the resolution because the city needed to adopt a budget, “but this is not a good way to do business.”