Council members retaliate against Holden
The Metro Council’s ongoing feud with Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration escalated Wednesday night in a heated meeting as administration officials refused to respond to questions by council members about possible funding sources for summer youth programs.
Several council members blasted the administration for the lack of response and retaliated by voting down routine administration requests to fund a temporary payroll employee in the Department of Public Works and a special events coordinator in the Downtown Development District. Both positions were provided for within the respective department budgets and were left open by recent vacancies.
“This council will not be degraded, insulted, disrespected and totally ignored in that manner,” Walker said after the meeting. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for the administration to understand that.”
The dispute began as the Metro Council debated how to spend its $201,000 balance in its discretionary account. The council considered and rejected four separate requests, totaling $350,000, to fund different summer youth programs.
The requests for money by council members exceeded the balance of the discretionary fund, so Councilman Trae Welch called upon administration officials to come to the podium so they could address whether they would consider providing additional money for summer youth programs.
Holden, as he often does, left the council meeting early, shortly after opening presentations, and was not present. Both John Carpenter and Gwen Hamilton, administrative officers for Holden, shook their heads from their seats and said they could not comment.
Several council members took offense to their refusal to come to the podium to address them.
“That’s ridiculous to say that you don’t have a comment,” Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said. “Well good, then don’t call on me next time you need something from me, because I won’t have a comment.”
Councilman Scott Wilson urged the council to stop approving anything requiring additional money requested by the Mayor’s Office.
Shortly after his comments, the council voted against the requests for the DPW and the Downtown Development District positions.
The DPW position failed 5-3, with three members absent and one abstention. Items require seven votes for approval. Ulysses “Bones” Addison, Walker and Wilson voted against the item. Chandler Loupe was absent, and Marcelle left the meeting early. Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois abstained, and Tara Wicker was not at her seat when the vote was taken. Addison, Walker and Wilson also voted against the Downtown Development District position and Bourgeois abstained.
Those voting in favor of the DPW position were, Joel Boé, Alison Gary, Welch, Ronnie Edwards and Donna Collins-Lewis. Those five council members and Wicker voted to approve for the DDD position.
Boé became visibly frustrated with his colleagues and asked them to reconsider after rejecting the Downtown Development District position.
“He had an employee who left. What’s the issue here?” Boé asked his colleagues. “If you have a vendetta against the mayor or administration, then take it up with them.”
Wilson responded angrily, “You just push your button and I’ll push mine. The mayor hasn’t talked to us in months.”
Addison criticized what he called Carpenter’s “poor leadership.”
“This is what you get,” Addison said to Carpenter. “If you worked under me, you’d be fired.”
Holden did not respond to a message left with an aide after the meeting seeking a response, and Carpenter declined to comment.
“Anything I would say would only make things worse,” Carpenter said.
DPW Director William Daniel said after the meeting that he asked for authorization to hire a payroll employee because he recently had two 30-year employees retire.
Davis Rhorer, executive director for DDD, said the position, which is one of four total positions in his office, provides programming for the North Boulevard Town Square, such as festivals and musical acts.
Boé said after the meeting he was disappointed in the council’s actions.
“We can’t shut down the whole government because of a disagreement,” he said
After the meeting, Walker dismissed the idea that the council had jeopardized any departments by its actions Wednesday. But Daniel interjected, “Well, I’ve just lost an employee, and I can’t do payroll now.”
Walker responded, “Well that’s the first I’ve heard of that.”
The Metro Council did not allocate any dollars from its discretionary fund to the various summer youth programs being proposed, as some council members disagreed over what kind of youth programs should be funded and other council members disagreed with spending the money on individual district projects.
Bourgeois said he regretted that the council spent the previous $607,850 from the discretionary account so quickly.
“The year is far from over and we should be a little more prudent at least with the rest of the money,” he said. “I have regrets about what we did in the past. Dropping $600,000 in that amount of time is kind of amazing.”
The council took control of the mayor’s discretionary account in December, and the pot of money is the only account the council can draw from — with seven votes — throughout the year.
The programs rejected Wednesday included a teen employment program run by Big Buddy, a film industry training employment program, and two summer youth programs that would have been housed in community centers in the inner city.
The Metro Council also nearly killed a contract with the architect for the downtown River Center Library, with several members restating their disdain for the $19 million project. A majority on the council approved funding for the project in December 2010, and approved it again after it was reconsidered last year.
“I am not supporting a $19 million library,” Addison said. “It’s way over the top.”
The council deferred action on the architect contract after votes to delete and approve the item each failed.
Voting to approve were Welch, Edwards, Boe, Wicker and Gary. Voting against approval were Addison, Wilson, Walker, Marcelle and Bourgeois. Donna Collins-Lewis abstained.