It may seem that work has slowly ground to a halt in the halls of power and the streets around town after the City Council failed to select a temporary Ward 4 Council member and increased funding for a road project more than two years in the making Tuesday evening.
Brent Beard, Ray Huff, Ethan Purdue and Jennifer Stevens all threw their hats into the ring to fill former Councilman Brett Smith’s seat until Nov. 7, 2022, when voters will choose a permanent representative.
Smith recently announced that he was resigning from elected office to pursue a new career opportunity in Florida.
Of the four hopeful candidates, only two received support from current members: Beard and Huff.
Mayor Ron Anders cited city budgets as his primary reason for backing Beard’s nomination.
“Having an experienced member sit up here with us and go through these decisions is advantageous,” Anders said.
Other members agreed with Anders that his previous experience passing budgets would be welcomed as the Council prepares to read its first budget at the June 21 meeting.
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“We hadn’t really considered the impact the budget would have on the next few months, and some experience there would be quite advantageous,” Ward 7 council member Jay Hovey said.
However, not everyone was sold.
“I know that y’all know Brent, but I don’t know him, and he didn’t reach out to me,” Connie Fitch Taylor of Ward 2 said. “Ray Huff was the only one that actually sent a resume through the email I received, so I know more about him just through his resume.”
As Council members voted to determine who would fill the now-vacant Ward 4 seat, neither Beard nor Huff received the five votes required by Alabama law.
The vote, which was split four to three in favor of Beard, became a point of contention amongst the council members after they failed to come to a consensus.
Currently, the City Council seats eight members, which would allow for split decisions that could stall progress on issues moving forward.
“I believe that it’s in the City of Auburn’s best interest for us to have nine members for the City Council to function and work on behalf of the citizens, and obviously Ward Four deserves to have a representative,” Anders said. “I would hope that on 21st that Ward Four will have a representative.”
Anders also stated that the City Council will prepare options moving forward in the event a replacement is not chosen for Ward 4 by June 21.
Despite the potential problems a shorthanded City Council poses to the governance of Auburn, Taylor expressed optimism when asked following the conclusion of the meeting.
“I don’t think it will make a difference if it’s an eight- or nine-person Council, and I think that the people that are already sitting on the Council are already knowledgeable enough to get the budget done,” she said.
The City Council authorized the payment of an additional $212,000 to JLD Enterprises for cost overruns associated with the Cox Road widening project. The project, which originally received more than $1.5 million in funding on May 19, 2020, is now officially 14% over budget more than two years after it was first approved.
According to the original agreement, the City Council only budgeted for a 10%, or $151,000, cost overrun and was required to approve this new increase in funding.
Following this authorization, JLD Enterprises will be responsible for covering any additional cost overruns according to documents released by the City Council.
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