Hakeem wrong on Bailey and voucher proposal

Hakeem wrong on Bailey and voucher proposal

March 20th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem

Chattanooga City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem's reaction Tuesday to an email from city transportation administrator Blythe Bailey, in which Bailey said he wouldn't attend a meeting where it appeared a sweetheart deal was being proposed for a private taxi company, was akin to a child having a favorite toy taken away from him.

Not only did Hakeem say in a letter that the low-key Bailey's email called him a "crook" and "disrespected him," but he said the administrator was "unmanageable and a loose cannon" and "should be eliminated from local government."

Further, the council chairman asked Councilman Jerry Mitchell, the council's Human Resources Committee chairman, to have Bailey come before his committee next week because of his email, but that meeting was canceled late Wednesday.

Bailey's email, which was posted online in Wednesday's Times Free Press, was direct but respectful, thanking the council chairman for his previous email, indicating his reservation, declining to attend the meeting and offering himself for any subsequent discussions that didn't include a specific vendor.

Unless there is information about the situation Hakeem didn't bring to the Council, the transportation administrator absolutely did the right thing not only by turning down attending such a meeting but noting that "naming a specific vendor on the front end of a policy discussion involving significant financial expenditure may be a violation of purchasing policies."

The council chairman's purpose for the Monday meeting Bailey declined to attend was for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), City Council members and Millennium Taxi cab owner Tim Duckett to talk about a proposal in which the city would establish a public voucher partnership system with Millennium.

Not only that, but the proposal also suggested the city purchase 40 taxicabs for Millennium Taxi and provide insurance and maintenance for the taxi company's fleet.

What a great idea ... for Tim Duckett! For other taxi companies, who weren't invited, not so much.

Neither Bailey nor CARTA officials are against some sort of voucher service, which Hakeem said Duckett maintains is done effectively in other cities, but CARTA Executive Director Lisa Maragnano, like Bailey, said a specific company could not be agreed upon on the front end and that bids would have to be involved.

Surely the council chairman should have known that, but he barged ahead and said he didn't need the city's blessing to move forward with more research and discussion before a final proposal is presented to the council.

Following the meeting with CARTA officials, Councilman Ken Smith, who also attended, made it clear "no jobs ... are predetermined to go to any particular vendor that has not been properly vetted or bid on." And Mitchell said he wouldn't support the City Council moving ahead on such a proposal without the transportation department's or the administration's blessing.

Having been chastened on the proposal, Hakeem then shot off his letter to Bailey, suggesting he will recommend to the City Council that Bailey's position be defunded. The City Council had confirmed the position a year ago after Andy Berke's inauguration as mayor.

Tuesday's City Council meeting also saw the council chairman ask to defer a vote on the Transportation Department's Complete Streets plan, a policy seven other Tennessee cities and hundreds across the nation already have, and one that, more importantly, needs to be in place for the city to win certain grants.

Hakeem said afterwards he didn't know how the plan, which would create a citywide policy outlining the future of Chattanooga streets to include bicycle lanes, sidewalks and other features, would benefit his district.

City transportation, without a doubt, should be improved, and discussions to that end also should include bus lines, bus ridership and the vehicle-for-hire industry.

But the city should not entertain anything that smacks of a backroom deal. Period.