The Auburn City Council met Tuesday, Nov. 19, to discuss board vacancies, traffic developments, the purchase of the Auburn Depot, but Council member Arthur Dowdell dominated the meeting with claims of racial discrimination.
Two men spoke on behalf of Christopher Turner during Citizens' Communications. Turner is an African-American firefighter suing the Auburn Fire Department for alleged racial discrimination after he was demoted from lieutenant to firefighter.
Turner's attorney, Julian McPhillips demanded the council to eliminate the fire department assessment test, which screens candidates for promotion.
"Eighteen years and we have not had a black promoted," Dowdell said during the meeting. "Only because we have allowed the assessment center to be there and it should be deleted, it should not even be there. But we got it there. To me, it's there only to predicate things upon black firefighters."
Dowdell said he is concerned, as an elected official, with what he sees in the city.
"Do we really look like America?" Dowdell said. "We aren't going any place. We got black and white, rich and poor."
Dowdell did admit the Auburn Police Division fit his qualifications and reflected America.
"We believe our hiring and promotional practices are race-neutral," said Charlie Duggan, city manager. "Race does not play a part in our decision making. We hire and promote the most qualified candidates for the job."
Duggan assured professionals with experience and background in fire service run the assessment center.
"They come in, and they rate individuals on a number of criteria, not just the test. They put them through a number of exercises," Duggan said. "We believe the most qualified are identified and promoted."
While McPhillips was at the stand, he passed envelopes filled with case details to all council members and the press.
Mayor Bill Ham could not answer questions, because the lawsuit lists him, along with many other city officials, as defendants in the case.
"I thoroughly, faithfully, believe this city is fair in all of its practices and the council has no authority in hiring anybody," Ham said. "I personally think that's a good thing. It's unfortunate that these accusations are out there, but certainly that's what lawyers do."
Dowdell followed these accusations toward city officials with concerns that school principals have expressed racial issues in the school system to him.
"I'm not going to retire from this city council or somebody defeat me until we see change for all of the people in the city of Auburn," Dowdell said. "And let the record know that I was the first to say students should have a voice in this city council. Let's be realistic, we all know why we don't allow students to be here when we have elections."
In reply, Ham said that for the past two city elections, Auburn University was in session for the fall semester.
In other council news,
* Current city code restricts solicitation from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Phelan proposed the code be altered to 8 a.m. until dark.
* The council approved alcoholic beverage license for J and S Food Mart at 1700 Opelika Road, and a no parking zone stretching from 600 to 604 Edgewood Drive.
* It also approved a development agreement between the city and Eastwynn Theaters, Carmike Wynnsong Cinemas, to redevelop the area to make infrastructure improvements in order to redevelop the facility.
* Approved four planning commission recommendations dealing with the Auburn Club Fitness Center, Initial Outfitters, Project Special K and Vapor Craft of Auburn.
* Approved a sewer study conducted by Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. to evaluate the sewer system's sufficiency rates and sewer operational fees.
* Approved a contract with C.W. Smith Decorating Co. to complete sealant and wall restoration work at the Douglas J. Watson Municipal Complex. The cost of the restoration is $201,083 to include labor, equipment and materials.
* Approved a preliminary engineering agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation to install stagger traffic signals to control traffic in the City. The council approved to match the funding of the project. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $760,500 with federal funding through the Metropolitan Planning Organization of $608,400 (80%) and City match funding of $152,100 (20%).
* Approved various drainage and utility easements for One-Sixty Ross Subdivision and 2025 Brenton Lane.
* Appointed Rex Griffin to the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. His term is effective immediately and will end March 8, 2017.
* Appointed Bobby Poole and Doug Klinkenborg to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The terms expire March 8, 2017.
* The council approved for the Industrial Board to purchase the Auburn Depot, located at 104, 120 and 124 Mitcham Ave., for economic development.
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