More Delays on Animal Control
Continuing differences between the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County stall the renewal of an Animal Control contract.
The ongoing debate between the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County regarding the contract with BJC Animal Control is well into its sixth month. In January of this year, the County drew up a request for proposal [RFP] for prospective vendors to bid on animal control services. Both the City and an advisory board created by the County disagreed with some aspects of the RFP, and some changes were eventually implemented. The contract was awarded to Steve Smith of BJC Animal Control, the low bidder at $1.052 million. Dan Bugg of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who was recommended by the County Commission’s Animal Control Advisory Board, bid $1.6 million. The City, however, has not been satisfied with terms of the contract, which it finally received May 24, one week prior to the County’s deadline for the City to decide if it would join with the County or seek animal control services independently. Steve Smith has been the County’s and the City’s animal control vendor since 1997.
The standoff has all the drama of high-stakes poker. Birmingham pays 65 percent of the joint animal control expenses. Without the City on board, the County’s contribution to animal control jumps from $327,000 to $635,000. So, it’s no surprise that the County is interested in having the City involved, though it makes no sense why animal control services will suddenly cost the County twice as much for the same service it has received in the past.
The County extended the deadline to June 22, as city officials still were not completely satisfied with the contract. A June 22 memo from County Attorney Andy Strickland to the City stated that the County was unsuccessful in contacting the City on the morning of the 22nd for its decision, so the deadline was extended to June 29. In the memo, the County continued to disagree with a contract stipulation which would allow the City to terminate the contract with 30 days notice. Instead, the City, which pays the lion’s share of the contract, can only terminate the contract jointly with the County on 90 days notice. A June 23 memo from City Attorney Tamara Johnson to Mayor Bernard Kincaid and the Birmingham City Council indicated that the City was still “not in total agreement with the terms of the proposed contract with Steve Smith.”
Mayor Bernard Kincaid, among other city officials, has expressed concern that the contract was written to benefit Steve Smith. It has long been insinuated by local animal advocates and some city councilors that the relationship between Smith and the County Commission is a close one. So it comes as no surprise that some city officials are curious that in his June 22 memo to the City, Strickland refers to Smith as “Steve.” Regarding the right of the City to end the contract, Strickland wrote: “Steve objects to the County or City being able to independently terminate the contract.”
Regarding compliance, the contract states, “Contractor agrees to inspections by the County, or its designee, or the City, or its designee, during the year for the purposes of determining whether the Contractor is in compliance with the Contract.” According to the County Attorney, Smith objects to this compliance clause. Strickland stated in his memo: “It appears to vest the County and/or the City’s ‘designee’ with authority to determine whether the Contractor is in compliance with the Contract. Steve welcomes reasonable inspections but would like some comfort level that the inspectors will have some qualifications for the job and be unbiased.”
Birmingham City Councilor Valerie Abbott is flabbergasted at the weight given to Smith’s input: “It’s interesting to me that the people at the County have repeatedly denied that they have a special relationship with BJC Animal Control in the form of Steve Smith. This pretty much backs it up,” said Abbott. “They just say, ‘It’s acceptable to Steve and the County.’ . . . It really does amaze me. There was this great wave of denial from the County that they were involved in any kind of special relationship. But it looks pretty obvious to me that somebody has a special relationship . . . It’s like Steve’s running the show.”
Writer’s note: Mayor Kincaid’s Advisory Committee on Animal Control met on June 28, and decided to agree to the contract if the County would allow the City to opt out of the contract independently upon 90 days written notice. As of press time, the County had not responded.