ABERDEEN – From electricity contracts to the sale of the former Holley Performance building to the termination of the assistant police chief, Sept. 1’s board of aldermen meeting covered a range of topics.
The board voted 3-2 to void a long-term agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority, which Mayor Maurice Howard claimed in previous meetings to be an illegal contract because he didn’t sign it last year.
City attorney Walter Zinn Jr. said the city is not voiding any services or contractual agreements with the regional electricity provider because of a previous standing contract.
“What we’re just voiding is the effort to renegotiate, or reestablish, our long-term relationship with TVA,” Zinn said.
Ward 3 Alderman Edward Haynes, who took his time before deciding to void the contract, asked if the city would be responsible to pay back wholesale electricity discounts provided by last year’s contract.
“They pay the wholesale rate based on whatever circumstances that the contract they executed last fall was going to be good, but the law even states that a new administration always ratifies the previous contract, which I don’t think is necessary with this issue,” Zinn said.
Howard added the city could be responsible to pay back 50 percent of all wholesale credit.
“That is only contingent on us…nobody’s saying that we don’t want to renegotiate. TVA already understands that they’re coming back to the table as soon as possible. This is not us trying to throw them away. This is us making this illegal contract right going forward,” Howard said.
Haynes asked if the city can have the conversation with TVA without voiding the contract, and Ward 5 Alderman John Allen asked if the city will still be eligible for the wholesale rate it is receiving.
“The rates they’re negotiating with the city – 3.1 percent – are way better than zero, but not everyone in TVA’s service area is receiving three percent. It’s not like it’s a number we’re married to, and the contract itself said TVA is not married to it,” Zinn said. “There are LPCs [local power companies], including the City of Memphis that has a rate of eight percent. The point is if we just doubled our rate to six percent, which is still lower than some LPCs, we’ll have double the amount of money, which is not even a national eyebrow raiser or even an eyebrow raiser in the company we’re negotiating with.”
After voicing his vote in favor of voiding the contract, Haynes gave his word he is holding Howard and Zinn responsible if it causes a negative outcome for the city.
“We’re going to trust the attorney because that’s what we have the attorney for. It’s his expertise, not ours, and then we’re going to be respectful when we do that,” said Ward 2 Alderwoman Lady B. Garth.
In a related item, aldermen voted 3-2 against voiding a long-term power contract agreement with Westlake, with Garth and Ward 1 Alderman Nicholas Holliday voting against.
“An entity that big in anybody’s city that does not pay taxes and does not contribute to the city and receives all the fringe benefits…I voted no when I first came on board. I’m going to continue to vote no. The people, themselves, said they would’ve given Aberdeen city something, but nobody came and asked,” Garth said.
Howard said the contract didn’t have to be voided because the contract is not in the minutes. Allen asked why he waited to see the result of the vote if it wasn’t needed in the first place.
“Again, we’re setting a precedence. What we’re saying is we’re not going to allow illegal things to go forth and allow it to happen,” Howard said.
Following executive session, the board approved to terminate Aberdeen Assistant Police Chief Quinell Shumpert. Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Randle said after the meeting the termination pertained to policies and procedures but did not elaborate any further.
Also after executive session, aldermen approved to hire Travett Caradine as Howard’s secretary, Akela McNairy as assistant court clerk and Fred Young for the water department.
In other business, the board approved 3-2 for the former Holley Performance building be sold to Howard Harper of Eco Builders for $90,000 with credit received from earnest money he previous spent on attempting to purchase the building.
“The chamber of commerce took the time and the effort to appraise that building, and it was $375,000 for the property and the building. How can we justify selling it for $90,000?,” asked Allen, who voted with Ward 4 Alderwoman Carolyn Odom against the sale.
Saying she would support him, Garth applauded Harper’s interest in bringing the eco-friendly building materials manufacturer to town despite complications during the prior administration.
Tweaks to the original contract included securing 50 Aberdeen residents out of the 70 employees Harper pledged and splitting mineral rights 50-50 on the property.
Aberdeen Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Kathy Seymour was granted approval to apply for a grant for ongoing improvements at the M&O Depot.
“Archives and history has posted one of the largest grant cycles that they’ve ever done. There is $2.5 million available on this grant cycle,” she said, adding she’d like to apply for a $250,000 grant. “We have a lot of needs in Aberdeen, and one of them is for event space.”
She explained rent can be charged for events such as weddings and funerals, and there’s potential for a business incubator.
Seymour will work with Belinda Stewart Architects to develop a plan, and the deadline to apply is Oct. 2.
Justin Overton with ION Business Concepts presented a pitch about online payments and a kiosk for customers who have bills through the city.
“Originally, when we talked about this [Aberdeen Electric t Department Manager] Mr. [Brian] Sanders was talking about an outside kiosk retrofitted, which was costly. This is more cost effective,” Howard said, adding online payments were more pressing.
The matter was tabled.
The board heard five bids for cemetery mowing, but action was tabled. Three applications for Urban Development Assistant Grants were also tabled until the applicants can appear before the board. Howard said one of the applicants was not from Aberdeen and that one business is a mobile business.
Aldermen also approved to change the employee health insurance eligibility period from 60 days to 30 days.
For the second meeting in a row, Allen and Odom voted to approve the city’s docket of claims with the exception of mileage reimbursement for Howard’s travel. Allen said the records aren’t itemized, and Odom said she didn’t know what of the $116 most recently claimed was for city business.
A concerned citizen asked for the city to be proactive in making Highway 25 safer for pedestrians in the wake of a fatal accident last month. He suggested more police patrol for speeders or speed bumps.
During their input, Allen and Garth both stressed the importance for people to report their data through the 2020 census, saying accurate counts secure funding and government representation.
Howard also introduced a new employee of the month incentive program. He recognized Albert Johnson as the first recipient. He said city employees who are awarded the designation will receive Walmart gift cards and plaques and have their photos hung up at City Hall.
He also recognized deputy city clerk Judy Harrison, who retired last week after serving the city for several years.