City Councilwomen Challenge Warr Administration's
Development Commission With New Attorney General Opinions
by Keith Burton - GCN 8/6/08
The administration of Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr is coming under greater fire for its actions associated with the creation of the city's new Gulfport Development Commission. Two recently obtained Attorney General's opinions involving the establishment of the commission, and an appointment of one of the commission's members has been determined questionable. The AG opinions, which have the weight of law, were issued August 1.
Councilwomen Ella Holmes-Hines and Councilwoman Barbara Nalley recently requested and received AG opinions related to the new commission and read them to the mayor and the city's attorney during Tuesday's city council meeting.
Ella Holmes-Hines had requested the opinion over concerns that the city, and a majority of the City Council had acted improperly in creating the commission as it turned too much power over the city's development to an independent body.
Holmes-Hines asked the AG:
The AG's opinion reiterated an s Opinion reported first by GulfCoastNews.com that cities are prohibited from forming an economic development commission, but can form urban renewal agencies, if they follow the proper procedures.
GCN asked Holmes-Hines why she felt an new AG's opinion was necessary.
"No one ever gives up this much power unless you do the right thing," Holmes-Hines said. "We didn't do the right thing."
"I had requested the opinion because the Gulfport Development Commission, as it was established, was an independent body, almost like a king. And, how could we have we as a city council oversee such an operation if we didn't have the power to do so?"
GCN reported weeks ago that city's cannot form development commissions and that doing so is illegal. For for that report, the Warr administration used a reporter at the Sun Herald newspaper to blast the GulfCoastNews.com story.
Barbara Nalley had requested an AG's Opinion dealing with the process that led to the appointment of banker George Schloegel to the Development Commission. When Schloegel's name was first placed before the City Council, it failed on a tie vote. While greatly upsetting Mayor Warr, he promised he would resubmit Schloegel's name at a future councilmeeting, which he did.
In days after the initial failure, several city councilmen were heavily lobbied by the Warr administration behind the scenes. While details of those lobbying efforts are not known, some of the councilmembers feel inappropriate pressure was applied.
Nalley's new AG's opinion states, in effect, that the procedure was flawed to reintroduce Schloegel's name as once a nominee for a commission or public post fails, the administration cannot resubmit the same name.
The Attorney General opinion stated that the mayor did not have the authority to resubmit an appointment on the agenda that had been rejected by the council, but the council itself can make a motion to reconsider, but only if the council places the item on the agenda, not the mayor, as it was done in the recent Gulfport council case involving Schoegel.
"...Once the council has failed to confirm an appointment, that appointee cannot serve and cannot be reappointed by the mayor. However there is nothing that would prohibit the council, on its own motion, from later reconsidering its prior action rejecting the mayor's appointment," reads the opinion.
The city organized the commission not as an economic development agency, which is illegal, but as an Urban Renewal Agency. However, such as urban renewal agency does not have the same powers as an economic development commission, which is what the administration seeks to run.
The commission is to oversee the development of Mayor Brent Warr's pet projects, including the former VA hospital property, Jones Park and Harbor, Downtown, the Sportsplex and Ken Combs pier. None of which, are blighted properties. The VA property has not yet been given to the city by federal authorities.
The City Council approved the establishment of the Gulfport Development Commission in April without many of the councilmembers actually realizing it was an urban renewal agency. It has continuously been discussed as an economic development commission.