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City to change its bidding practices
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Council consensus: Defund Center’s 2050 work

Funding for The Center for Community Preservation and Planning’s work on the 2050 Plan’s baseline ordinances is doomed, at least as far as the Covington City Council is concerned.

At a Monday night workshop, the council agreed with Mayor Ronnie Johnston that since the county voted last month to push all work on the ordinances to its own planning department, there was little reason for the city to continue to pay The Center for work no longer being done. Funding for The Center’s work was paid for by the city, the county and the Water & Sewer Authority, with a lesser amount thrown in by Oxford.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest in (paying for) the baseline ordinances when we don’t have a seat at the table,” Johnston said.

He asked the three councilmen present if they agreed.

Keith Dalton and Chris Smith immediately answered: “Absolutely.”

Councilman Michael Whatley said it seemed “pretty cut and dried.”

The issue will be up for a formal vote at the council’s regular Sept. 15 meeting.

What is a work session?

Monday night, the Covington City Council held a meeting. Of sorts.

Known as a work session, the public gathering allows council members to get together, discuss options for various issues, and reach a consensus when possible. No votes may be taken.

Attending Monday’s workshop were Mayor Ronnie Johnston and councilmen Michael Whatley, Chris Smith and Keith Dalton. The other three members were absent. The mayor only votes to break ties, so a consensus reached Monday will likely carry the day at regular council meetings.

When the city did the renovation construction on the Square park, it doled it out in parcels, a few thousand dollars here and there, with Planning Director Randy Vinson acting as construction supervisor.

It was done in-house to save money, and parceled out to fit under the $20,000 threshold for non-bid projects as called for by city regulations, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight told the City Council in a work session Monday night.

By spending, say, $20,000 on concrete and $11,000 on granite (those are hypothetical numbers), Knight was able to sign off on each project, ideally save some money, and not have to get votes each time from the council when something minor needed changed. Each time she bought something, though, she still asked for three quotes from suppliers, again in accordance with city policy.

That was the theory. Knight followed the rules. But the council might change those rules at its next meeting.

Only three council members and the mayor attended Monday’s workshop, but all agreed that projects should be bid out in their entirety, and that Vinson’s time would be better spent as planning director.

The issue came up in a discussion about work at Legion Field. The city has $113,000 in its hotel/motel tax account, and Knight proposed the money be spent to rebuild the pavilion on its old pad and build the “Welcome to Legion Field” decorative archway. It was budgeted that way, and Knight expected to spend $60,000 on the pavilion and $14,000 on the archway.

If bid as a package, the work to the park — which includes restrooms, a new fair expo building, the pavilion, and the archway (but excluding a proposed band shell) — is estimated to cost about $309,000, Knight said. And there’s no way to tell what the contractors’ bids would be.

Councilman Keith Dalton said the bathrooms are more necessary than the pavilion.

“To me, that’s a priority,” he said. “I’m not for Port-a-potties out there.”

He suggested using the money available to build the equivalent of the restrooms on the Square in the expo building. Vinson said that could happen, complete with outside entrances to protect the interior of the building, but it would require quite a bit of construction. The mayor asked for and received consensus that the bathrooms needed to come first.

No votes, of course, are taken at workshops.

Immediately after that, Dalton said he’d like to see “total projects, total cost.” Councilman Chris Smith agreed. Both questioned Knight’s $20,000 spending limit.

She took umbrage.

“You can slice it any way you want to … but you’re essentially saying I was going to do something I could not do by breaking it down into individual services,” she said. The law allows that, and doing so can save taxpayer money, she said.

Smith said parceling projects out might not be the “most efficient” way of spending taxpayer dollars.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said nobody was saying Knight did anything wrong, and added that in some cases — say, when an air-conditioner breaks down — Knight needs to have the ability to get it fixed in a hurry.
In summary, Johnston said, the council will consider the limits on the manager’s spending, redefine in its ordinances what a “project” is, and study whether it can borrow against expected hotel/motel income to finish entire projects in shorter amounts of time.

Council members Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams did not attend Monday’s work session. The next City Council meeting is set to begin with a work session at 6 p.m. Monday, with the regular meeting starting at 6:30 p.m.