Hiring consultant over redevelopment is a mistake

Published 10:34 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

For years, citizens have gone before our City Council with a wide range of concerns, complaints, and grievances on matters ranging from electric bill charges, the running of our schools, and the taking of our homes and churches through the gentrification of the Southside area.

At the Dec. 8, 2008 city council meeting, I filed a complaint with the city council addressing the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Department of Community Development staff request for a consultant to do a redevelopment needs assessment.

On Feb. 12, 2007, City Manager Rowland Taylor wrote FRHA Executive Director Sheryl Frazier a letter stating that the City of Franklin wanted the FRHA to serve as the “lead agency” in developing a Master Redevelopment Plan, and the makeup of the group to execute the task. The city and the housing authority would supply the committee with staff members that would work for the committee, not dictate how the committee would run, or make its recommendations.

At the Nov. 10, 2008, city council meeting, staff stated that the redevelopment commission tasked with planning city redevelopment had decided that the group could not move forward without data to guide its work, and that a consultant was needed to complete the task. The consultant would cost $60,000.

My complaint deals with the staff’s assertions that the committee and the housing authority wanted the assessment done. The committee and the housing authority wanted a consultant, at a cost of $60,000. The committee and the housing authority wanted the committee suspended until the city council gives the FRHA $60,000.

I filed a complaint with the city council because the staff’s requests are improper, and what the staff presented to the city council was false, inaccurate, and misrepresented the will of the FRHA and the redevelopment committee.  I’ve attended all of the redevelopment committee’s meetings, and I’ve checked the FRHA records. The committee and FRHA never formally voted on having an assessment done, to request hiring a consultant at $60,000, or to suspend the committee’s activities until the city funds the FRHA.

The city is in hard financial times, as are its citizens, and $60,000 is a big request. The possible taking of homes and churches, and the gentrification of Southside are important matters, and procedures to determine the city’s course of action should be followed, and requests for money should be made only after all possible considerations have been examined. Staff shut down the redevelopment committee. Staff wants the consultant. Staff wants to spend $60,000. Staff’s actions clearly violate established procedures, and staff’s false statements may possibly lead council to make a bad call on hiring a consultant.

So far, I’ve been informed that the city will not be able to address my concerns because they do not have procedures to investigate complaints. This piece of information shocked me, and I fear it has left me jaded and jaundiced.

How difficult was it for the city to find procedures to collect the $200,000 electric bill from hardworking business owners? How difficult is it for the city to come up with a procedure to look at the FRHA resolution book, and obtain the redevelopment committee’s voting record?

How long have Southside councilwomen Raystine Johnson, Mary Hilliard, and Rosa Lawrence known that the city council did not investigate citizen complaints? For years, they have told their constituents to go to council with their complaints. They have been playing a cruel joke on their wards, and should immediately explain themselves.

Vice-Mayor Raystine Johnson knew that the FRHA had not voted on shutting down the committee, hiring a consultant, or obtaining funding from the city. But she sat there in silence as staff gave bad and misleading info to the city council. She should explain why she didn’t feel compelled to correct the situation.

Cost conscious, property-rights-loving citizens should demand the following:

That the city council direct the city manager to reconvene the redevelopment committee.

That the city council direct the redevelopment committee to follow procedure and formally vote on the following issues: the necessity of a needs assessment, and the hiring of a consultant for $60,000.

That the city council establish a process to investigate complaints of staff misrepresentations.

That the city council establish a process to investigate complaints of city agencies and departments’ violations.