After months of debate and public controversy, the Covington City Council voted to approve a budget of between $10,000 and $12,000 for the purchase of furniture for the Elected Officials’ Office at City Hall.
The vote took place at a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon. Councilmember Ocie Franklin made the motion for the furniture budget which was seconded by Councilmember Mike Whatley.
Councilmembers John Howard and Keith Dalton opposed. Mayor Kim Carter broke the tie with a vote in favor of the budget. Councilmembers Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams were not in attendance.
Prior to the vote Carter made several impassioned remarks on the issue, noting the public attention it has drawn since it was first discussed early in 2008. Carter noted that the city council did not have to put the project out to public bid because it was not large enough to meet the automatic public bid threshold but that they did so in the interests of "fairness and openness and transparency in government."
"It’s become somewhat of a public spectacle and there’s no need for that," Carter said.
Carter said the amount spent on office furnishings would amount to .0028 percent of the $130 million annual operating budget of the city. She also noted that residential property taxes pay a small fraction of the city’s budget at $1.4 million and that it is the city’s industrial sector that pays the lion’s share of city taxes.
"Our city is operating in a very strong financial environment," Carter said, adding the city had $20 million in cash reserves and despite the nationally grim economic environment had not had to lay off any city employees or cut their hours.
The council briefly reviewed a bid quote for office furnishings from Ramsey Furniture that was submitted on Dec. 15. The bid came to $9,324. Sam Ramsey is a former Covington mayor.
An earlier office furnishing bid submitted by the city’s selected interior designer, Dario and Associates, was $22,680. That bid was declined however because the council thought the price was too high, though it was the sole public bid received by deadline at the time.
Carter addressed the Dario furnishing bid, noting that though it was higher, all of the furniture was built domestically through environmentally friendly procedures and was of high quality. She said the furniture listed in the Ramsey bid was made in China.
"My job as mayor does not end solely with protecting local merchants’ interests," Carter said, in an apparent response to comments from residents that the council was wrong to not select a local interior designer or a local retailer for the project.
Covington resident Bob Furnad spoke up in favor of the office remodeling saying, "If we furnish that office as a second rate office, we are going to portray ourselves as a second rate city."
Whatley noted that it made no sense that the council could routinely approve multi-million dollar projects to address things like sewer lines with very little public comment and discussion, but that something as small as an office remodeling expenditure would provoke such a public outcry.