Perkins first press conference as mayor

Selma's new Mayor James Perkins Jr. held a press conference Friday at Bloch Park.

Newly minted Mayor James Perkins Jr. gave a report on his first week in office during a press conference on Friday at Bloch Park that included concerns about storm recovery, the budget and an announcement of a $500,000 grant.

Perkins estimates the city of Selma has endured more than $1 million in damages from Hurricane Zeta that barreled through with 60 mph winds on Oct. 29, causing widespread destruction.

Perkins also questioned the validity of contracts approved by the outgoing City Council after the storm to hire firms to clean up debris across the city.

At the press conference, Perkins said he wanted to be transparent and warned any lawn services doing cleanup work that the contract the council made last week is not valid.

City attorney Major Madison reinforced the mayor, saying no contracts have been executed or bid out relative to the hurricane and his office will be reviewing what the council approved that day right before they left office. 

“The public works department is doing all cleanup work,” he said. Perkins added “verbal agreements don’t count.”

Perkins reported damage at Bloch Park, which could be seen behind him at the press conference. The concrete wall fell over, the dugouts are gone and the press box in the stadium was damaged. Other damage was documented across the city, including a tree on top of the Vaughan Smitherman house that will need to be carefully restored, he said.

City public works crew have been working nonstop to clean up debris. Perkins said public works and the cemetery department are “grossly understaffed,” and said his administration will look at bringing in more workers. Many were laid off by the previous administration two years ago because of budget constraints.

“We are going to budget to bring staff levels up so we don’t burn them out,” Perkins said.

Because of the debris, trash pickup has been off schedule by a week. City officials say pickup will be next Monday.

The city does not need to declare an emergency, Perkins said. Instead it can operate under the emergency declaration declared by the governor.

Power has been restored to all Dallas County customers whose properties can receive power, according to Aubrey Carter with Alabama Power. Carter said 98 percent of their Dallas County customers were impacted in some way by the storm and most of the work to return power is done.

The city will be implementing a COVID protocol for cleaning buildings, requiring reports of cases and conducting contact tracing. Temperatures will be checked at the door before entering City Hall.

Large events will be discouraged, but the Selma High School playoff game will still be held at Memorial Stadium tonight since it was planned with the previous administration, Perkins said.

The city of Selma received a $500,000 grant through the Federal Transportation Alternative Set Aside Program that comes with a match of $300,000 from city, to redo sidewalks on Marie Foster, Perkins announced. The grant was applied for under the previous administration.

Also, during his first week as mayor again, Perkins said he is working on going through the budget. The City Council met on the day his administration took over and approved amendments to the budget, but he said he is unclear what was approved and can’t find documentation of the meeting to see what took place.

When asked how he thought his first week at the helm when, he said, “I am at peace in the midst of the storm.”

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