Ward VI Albany City Commissioner Tommie Postell said Tuesday the city’s failure to name certain South Albany neighborhoods historic districts is based on racism. Postell’s comment came during the commission’s first meeting of the new year. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — The first Albany City Commission meeting of the new year had the subdued feel of closure Tuesday morning in commissioners Ivey Hines’ and Christopher Pike’s — a no-show — last hurrah with the board after being voted out of office in the 2013 municipal election.
Still, there was plenty to keep observers interested as the board took what may finally be definitive action on the Cutliff Grove Nativity Village question, spent an extended period discussing a proposed pit bull ordinance and had one of its members accuse planners of racism in designating historic districts in the city.
It was long-serving Ward VI curmudgeon Tommie Postell who got 2014 off to a bang by bringing out the “r-word” as Downtown Manager Aaron Blair sought to have proposed revisions of the city’s text amendment relating to the downtown historic district brought before the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission.
When City Manager James Taylor, responding to Postell’s question why there are no designated historic districts in South Albany, said there were no records of such designations, the Ward VI commissioner said, “That’s because of racism, and I’m not going to be in agreement with that.”
Planning Director Paul Forgey said that a historic district can be created only if the people who live in the district want one and indicated he was willing to work with any group so interested.
“I appreciate that,” Postell said. “We’ve got historic districts here in the north and west that weren’t even around (when some of the South Albany neighborhoods were established). They didn’t do anything but shoot birds in those areas.”
The most significant action taken by the board was to agree, by a 4-2 vote, to tentatively accept a plan that will create an escrow account giving Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center interest-free dollar-for-dollar credit against the current $1,425,439.37 principal balance for prescribed maintenance and repairs at the Nativity complex up to a minimum of $500,000.
According to the proposal OK’d by the board, which would not become final until the commission’s Jan. 28 business meeting, Cutliff Grove will spend $75,889 a year ($6,324.08 per month) for a period of five years on maintenance and repairs at the 42-unit Nativity Village complex at 607 Mission Court. That money will be credited against the principal balance. At the end of the five-year period, the new principal balance will be amortized at 0 percent interest over 292 months.
Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard asked Community and Economic Development interim director Shelena Hawkins if she, “based on your expertise,” could gurantee that commissioners would not be “harassed or forced to come to meetings they don’t want to come to” over the five years of the agreement.
“I don’t see how, barring earthquake or flood, we would need to address this again within that five-year period,” the city manager said. “It’s set up where (Cutliff Grove) should be able to hit their targets.
“But there are issues out there. Five or six of those units need significant repairs, and I just don’t have the ability to see far enough into the future to predict what might happen. But we should be OK.”
Postell accused some on the commission of trying to find reasons not to support Cutliff Grove’s ownership of the Nativity complex.
“Some of you are trying to find the cue to wreck everything out there, not co-rrect it,” he said. “Now we have a corrective process in place. We’ve gone around and around and around this thing long enough, about three years now. We need to quit looking for loopholes to tear this project down. I think some of us want to become ‘economic financiers.’”
Ward V’s Bob Langstaff and Ward IV’s Roger Marietta voted against the planned agreement modification.
Howard declared that he would make creating a minority procurement office a priority over his next two years in office after staff told commissioners apparent bid winner LRA Constructors had less than 1 percent disadvantaged business participation in its $101,485 bid on an Albany Transit construction project. Goal for the project was 10.5 percent DBE participation, but the state Department of Transportation approved LRA’s bid saying it was satisfied the local company made a “good faith effort” to achieve the goal.
“Less than 1 percent; that’s ludicrous,” Howard said. “No one can convince me that in a city like ours that has a large minority population that less than 1 percent participation is a ‘good faith’ effort. That’s flabbergasting. Bids like this are atrocious.”
Staff told the board it had sought bids from 19 local contractors and subcontractors, that seven had attended a pre-bid conference and only two bids were received. One, by Shipps Building Constructors — which was slightly less than $20,000 below LRA’s bid — was rejected by the DOT because Shipps is not certified by the state Transportation department.
When Hines asked if the city might put its own DBE requirements on contractors’ bids, Taylor said it could not because 90 percent of the funding for the project is state and federal money.
“I don’t see how the federal government can fight the city trying to facilitate small businesses,” Hines said. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Isn’t this 1 percent amount unacceptable to the city? Can’t we place our own requirements on these bids?”
“Certainly we can reject the bid if this body wants to,” Taylor said. “But we’d have to pay for the entire project ourselves.”
The board voted 5-1 to tentatively accept the bid but asked for additional information about the bid process.”
The commission was unable to reach a consensus on a breed-specific ordinance regulating pit bulls as dangerous animals and requiring that such animals be registered, that owners be required to maintain liability insurance and that dogs be kept in a proper enclosure.
Marietta asked if “dogs that have not been a problem” might be “grandfathered in” under the ordinance, leading some to question how such a subjective determination might be made. In noting that Marietta’s proposed adjustment to the amendment would more or less kill it, City Attorney Nathan Davis told commissioners they could come by his office to get more specific information about the ordinances on which the proposed legislation is based.
“Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to look at some of the photos (of local children mauled by pit bulls) that is the impetus for this ordinance,” Davis said.
Langstaff and Marietta voted against the proposed ordinance, although Langstaff — a lawyer — said his concern was about language of the enclosure portion of the ordinance, and when Hines abstained, that left the commission without the four votes necessary to carry the ordinance.