Last week, Kyle Whitmire reported that Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford was proposing that the city pay $150,000 to the Stuart Group for an assessment of the Public Works Department’s management and operations. That would be this Stuart Group:
The Birmingham Mayor’s office has proposed a $150,000 contract with a consulting firm implicated in dirty tricks during the last city council election and also tied to unofficial mayoral aide John Katopodis.
The consulting firm, Stuart Consulting Group, has its Birmingham address at the “Pita Stop” building on Birmingham’s Southside. In a lawsuit against HealthSouth, Katopodis has claimed ownership of the building.
In 2005, Birmingham City Councilor Valerie Abbott was running for re-election. She faced opposition from two candidates, one of whom was Chris Hartsell, now Mayor Larry Langford’s chief operations officer. [emphasis added]
During that council election, Katopodis supported Hartsell, donating to his campaign and soliciting support for him.
Abbott won that election handily, but not before a bizarre dirty trick was perpetrated against her campaign. In the waning days of the campaign season, an automated message went out to District 3 households from then-Councilor Bert Miller.
After a series of scandals destroyed his reputation, Miller was not seeking reelection, but he did endorse Abbott in the auto-dialer message. Using a technical ruse, the messages displayed Abbott’s home phone number on recipients’ Caller ID.
Abbott was furious and threatened to press charges against Miller for identity theft.
Birmingham police investigated the incident, tracing the automated messages back to their source. The messages did not come from Abbott’s home number, as shown by Caller ID, but rather from an address in Metairie, La., a suburb of New Orleans.
The calls were coming from the Stuart Consulting Group.
And — surprise, surprise — the person pushing this new proposal in last week’s Budget Administration and Finance Committee meeting was Chris Hartsell.
Perhaps Valerie Abbott recognized the name. Or maybe City Council staffers have figured out that it’s a good idea to read the Weekly and Mixed Media on a regular basis. In any case, at least a few council members were awake enough to ask why the newly minted head of Public Works, plucked from managing a city landscaping crew and installed with a $100,000 salary increase, couldn’t evaluate his own department without the additional expense.
On Friday, city officials pulled the proposal.
“We are not moving forward with the contract at this time,” Chris Hartsell, Langford’s chief of operations, said Friday.
In addition, Hartsell said the amount of work needed for any future private evaluation could be reduced because of work already being done by the department’s leaders.
Score one for the good guys.