The Mobile City Council voted unanimously to approve a $244,000 contract with Lose & Associates for a comprehensive plan for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The vote ended weeks of debate over the contract, which would find efficiencies within the department and find ways to fund larger parks projects using capital money.
Matt Capps, executive director of Parks and Recreation, said the proposed plan would improve the department as a whole.
“It would look at ways to fix operations as well as identify how to improve our parks through capital funds,” he said.
There were initially concerns among councilors with how the plan would complement master plans for individual parks, such as Bienville Square. As discussion continued, councilors’ concerns evolved over the contract’s length, deliverables and other issues.
Council attorney Wanda Cochran, working with Assistant City Attorney Florence Kessler, ironed out a timeline for deliverables and added a contract end date the council ultimately found appropriate.
“March 31, 2019, is when the contract ends,” Cochran told councilors. “It could be extended without the council, but otherwise it’s good.”
The council also amended the contract to require approval of change-order increases of 10 percent or more.
Councilman Joel Daves cautioned the council was getting “into the weeds” on contract details and said he was worried colleagues were getting too involved in the contract, adding administrations have done a good job of handling contracts in the past.
“I think we’re making a mistake here,” he said.
Councilman Fred Richardson said he was doing due diligence.
“We’re not sticking our nose into nothing,” Richardson said. “It was put on our agenda. We’re doing our job.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she wants council to be regularly informed on the contract because of her experience with a master plan at Medal of Honor Park, in her district. She complained that she can’t update constituents on the progress of the master plan because she hasn’t been able to see it.
“I’m really in the dark about it,” Rich said. “I assume the master plan is completed, but I don’t have a timeline for it. I thought I was doing a good thing by putting funds toward a master plan, but I can’t even see it.”
Rich said because of her experience she wants to know “there’s a timeline and it comes back to council” so she can explain it to people in her district.
During a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, Cochran and city attorney Ricardo Woods both suggested taking out the last sentence to allow for a hard deadline. Councilors and administration officials also agreed to regular progress reports on the contract moving forward.
Capps said he sees the plan as a way to improve larger parks at one time. In other cities, Capps said, these planners have been able to help cities put together million-dollar contracts for park improvements.
“It would focus on big parks, in places with higher populations in our most diverse areas,” Capps said. “It would bring about overall system improvements.”
In other business, the council delayed a vote until Tuesday, Feb. 20, on creating a tourism improvement district in Mobile. The district, which was approved by local hoteliers, would add a fee to hotel bills in order to help fund local tourism marketing.
The idea initially came to light after Mayor Sandy Stimpson slashed Visit Mobile’s fiscal year 2017 budget by $650,000. The hope was that the improvement district would make up for the cut.
David Clark, president of Visit Mobile, told councilors during a pre-conference meeting Tuesday that some tweaks were needed before the amended ordinance would come up for a vote.
“A little more polish is needed,” he said.
Cochran asked for four weeks in order to work out “technical issues.”
A council committee also met at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss an extension of a sales tax increase that has been the basis of the city’s capital improvement program, or CIP. The meeting occurred after press time.