Alabama city leaders squabble: ‘You’re a newly-elected Mayor, not a newly-elected dictator’

Published 7:59 am Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Selma City Council had one of its most intense council meetings in years Tuesday night, reaching its crescendo when council president Billy Young telling Selma Mayor James Perkins he was the city’s mayor and not a dictator.

The intense and often loud discussion during Tuesday night’s meeting centered around the council’s 5-4 vote to hire SelCom to install surveillance cameras in the Queen City that would be used to help the Selma Police Department reduce crime.

Selma Councilman Clay Carmichael made the motion, and councilwoman Jannie Thomas seconded it. Council President Billy Young, Carmichael, Councilman Troy Harvill, and councilwomen Jannie Thomas and Christie Thomas voted for Selcom. Councilmen Atkin Jemison, Sam Randolph, Michael Johnson and councilwoman Lesia James voted no.

Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., IT Director John Kinnerson and Selma Police Chief Kenta Fulford all recommended the city choose Alabama Power’s camera system over SelCom’s SkyCop cameras at last week’s city council work session. The reasons they gave for choosing Alabama Power’s cameras were because of the company’s outreach statewide and a large price difference. Perkins also said leasing was an option with Alabama Power.

“If someone shoots the camera, Alabama Power will replace it with no cost,” Perkins said. “If someone shoots the camera under the other company, we will have to pay to fix it.”

At the work session, City Councilman Clay Carmichael said SelCom offered better technology, was less expensive and could be purchased with federal dollars.

Carmichael also said that both companies had access to a criminal database, which Perkins countered.

“All of the cameras have access to the criminal database, but only one of the systems have 500 cameras in the state of Alabama and that’s Alabama Power,” Perkins said.

After the vote, Perkins vehemently and loudly disagreed with the majority of the council’s vote to purchase the SkyCop cameras.

“The problem with this council is your vision is narrow,” Perkins said. “You look at things based on the best interests of individuals, not in the best interest of the city. There’s a misconception on the price. We’re not doing this for a political agenda. We’re doing what’s best for Selma.”

Councilwoman Lesia James, who voted against the SkyCop cameras, loudly objected to the adoption of the SkyCop cameras and said her counterparts should take the recommendation of Perkins, Kinnerson and Fulford.

Council President Billy Young said it’s up to the council to vote how they feel.

“Members of council can make their own decisions,” Young said. “When we are in discussion, there’s no rule for personal attacks for their votes. I didn’t make this up. These rules have been set in place for years.”

Young told James that she was out of line for the outburst.

Perkins resumed the Mayor’s report and said the council had insulted Alabama Power by not choosing them as the vendor for the security cameras.

“The company that donates buildings to the community, you just told them they were incompetent,” Perkins said.

Young replied: “No we didn’t.”

“Yes you did,” Perkins said. “You made sure Alabama Power doesn’t have a presence in our city. That’s ridiculous. You are way out of bounds. The utility company had all of the solutions.”

The conversation became more heated as Young fired back.

“Mayor Perkins, the council doesn’t need a lecture from you,” Young said. “We were elected to vote our conscience as you were elected to vote your conscience.

“No one on the council ever attacked you because of a recommendation just as you attacked us for our vote. Mayor, you’re scolding us as if we were children. Mayor, your children are at home and we’re not your children. Our relationship will be better if you remember that.”

Perkins interrupted Young.

“You’re bringing my children into this, my children have nothing to do with this,” Perkins said.

Young didn’t back down. “Mayor, I’m speaking,” Young said. “I afforded you the courtesy when you were talking. I suggest you remember that. You’re a newly-elected Mayor, not a newly-elected dictator.”

Perkins said he was doing his job for the best interest of Selma. Young said the council was doing the same.

“Mayor Perkins, there’s no doubt you love Selma, there will be times when we will agree and there will be times when we disagree.”

Selcom owner Rick Williams said Perkins never gave his company the opportunity to show what the SkyCop system could do for the city. Selcom began in 1952 and operates in two different states.

“We were never given a level playing field with the Mayor,” Williams said. “He was committed to Alabama Power. We provided them with tag ready cameras. Our plan was economically viable and we would’ve saved the city $100,000.”

Originally published by the Selma Times-Journal