Council extends $250k lobbying contract: The Birmingham City Council approved a year-long extension of a Congressional lobbying contract with the firm Handprint Bell Consulting, LLC, on Tuesday. The contract was hotly debated for several reasons, one being the cost—$250,000 for services through July 2011, and, optionally, $300,000 for 2012. “Actually, we can get high-quality representation in Washington for half the price,” Councilor Kim Rafferty said. Another issue was the firm’s failure to secure appropriations for the city, a concern expressed by Councilor Steven Hoyt: “I want some real results, and we’ve not gotten that,” he said. (Hoyt and Rafferty’s comments, which discussed a business’s character, drew points of order.) Other concerns were raised regarding the firm’s perceived lack of communication. The council passed the extension 6-1 with two abstentions, and agreed to reconsider the contract after Congress’s appropriations process in November. The city can cancel the contract for any reason with 14 days notice.
Toll bridge or not toll bridge:
That is the question. Due to weight restrictions, a bridge on Grants Mill Road in Birmingham has been closed since December. There is a proposal to rebuild the bridge at a cost of $947,000 using money from a federally-backed bond program. However, Birmingham has also received an unsolicited proposal from a company called Strada Materials to rebuild the bridge as a toll bridge for $4 million, the Birmingham News reported last week. Strada would pay for the bridge’s construction and keep a portion of the tolls. Questions of influence have arisen because Strada’s incorporator is associated with Jeff Pitts, who, as part of the political consulting group Matrix, managed Mayor William Bell’s 2009 campaign. So what makes this a Limelight? Despite a News report suggesting otherwise, a state official told the Weekly that all of the city’s bond paperwork “is in order at this time.”
Looking to BP for green: Like Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character in Jerry Maguire, many Gulf Coast residents are yelling “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” And what they’re hearing back from BP and the federal government is near-silence.
By September, BP is supposed to deposit the first $3 billion of a $20 billion independently-administered escrow fund for oil spill victims. And BP plans to cease its own claims payment system by August. As of press time, BP had not made a deposit, causing many to ask what the hold up is. The Mobile Press- Register reported on Monday that both BP and the federal government are not offering up any answers.
A BP spokesman did say they would share detailed information when it was available. In other BP news, escrow fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg plans to disclose his salary, and BP has selected a Mississippi native, Robert Dudley, to replace Tony Hayward as CEO of BP’s American operations.
“Charity” is in the eye of the beholder: Thanks to a judge’s order, we now know that charitable donations by VictoryLand electronic “bingo” casino in Shorter, Alabama, over five years were equivalent to less than one percent of the casino’s gross revenue. Gambling is illegal in Alabama, but state constitutional amendments allow bingo to be played in several counties for the benefit of charities. In recent years, bingo halls have begun using electronic “bingo” machines that behave like and appear to be slot machines, prompting a fight over whether electronic “bingo” is, in fact, bingo. County residents rarely know what percentage of a bingo hall’s earnings are donated to charity, but an ongoing lawsuit against VictoryLand by a competitor made VictoryLand’s records public knowledge. The Birmingham News reported that VictoryLand, which is owned by Milton McGregor, grossed $503 million over five years (after paying winners), and donated only $4.4 million to charity.