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Bowie: Contracts ‘temporary fix’ until budget talks

By virtue of contracts approved by the Selma City Council, the city’s beleaguered Cemetery Department will have help keeping its city properties clean, as well as an extra set of hands to ensure weekend services can continue being performed.

Following a recent opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, which found that the council’s ordinance allowing the council president to sign off on contracts in the mayor’s absence legal, the council is empowered to enter into contracts previously contested by Selma Mayor Darrio Melton.

During its meeting last week, the council approved moving ahead with accepting proposals from local landscaping companies and crews for grass cutting and maintenance and city cemeteries.

According to Selma City Council President Corey Bowie, the proposals will go directly to Cemetery Department Director John Coon, who will review them and bring his suggestions to the council.

“It’s just going to be a temporary fix until we pass a budget and try to bring back some employees,” Bowie said.

Melton recently released a draft budget proposal, but there has been little action on the council’s part – since the council delayed approving a budget last year, it’s unclear if they will take up Melton’s proposal or wait until a new administration takes office in January.

The council also approved hiring three contractors at a rate of $9.75 per hour to help out in the Cemetery Department, both during the week and on weekends, to ensure the department doesn’t have to cancel weekend services.

According to Bowie, 50 percent of all funeral services held in the city are hosted on Saturday.

“This is just another temporary fix,” Bowie said.

Bowie noted that there was a “clarion call” after the Cemetery Department announced the cancellation of weekend services due to a lack of manpower – the recently-approved contract ensures weekend services can continue until a more permanent fix can be worked out in the city’s budget.

The council also approved spending roughly $2,000 to replace a telegram pole in Ward 7, on the corner of Church Street and J.L. Chestnut Boulevard, which has been setting at a lean for months.

According to Bowie, he and Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas recently met with representatives from Alabama Power who warned that the pole was at risk of falling over – Bowie said the council wanted to “get ahead of the curve” in addressing the issue before it became a more serious problem.

The council also approved an $1,800 supplemental pay for all city public safety workers as a form of hazard pay during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The council has gone back and forth over hazard pay for city workers for weeks, with Selma City Councilmen John Leashore and Michael Johnson pressing for Public Works Department employees to be included – however, according to Brett Gantt in the State Comptroller’s Coronavirus Relief Funds Office, “only first responders’ salaries would be reimbursable.”

The council also approved a payment of more than $31,000 to Black Belt Technology for the ongoing downtown WiFi project, which Bowie noted was funded by grant funding from the Delta Regional Authority, which needs to be used up.

The council also approved moving ahead with a revamping of the city’s personnel manual, which was last amended in 2015.