CDA contracts not at Oxford City Hall
by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer
May 27, 2009 | 22878 views |  1 comments | 801 801 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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People looking for contracts signed by Oxford's Commercial Development Authority won't find them at City Hall where the board meets.

They're up the road on East 13th Street in Anniston in the office of city attorney John Phillips. Their location may put the city on the wrong side of state law which says records must be kept in the principal office of the CDA. And the principal office, the law says, must be in Oxford's city limits.

Phillips said Tuesday he would make sure the city has copies of these contracts whenever he is asked for them. Council President Chris Spurlin said he would speak with Mayor Leon Smith to see whether the contracts should be at city hall.

"I'll make sure we're compliant with the law," Spurlin said.

Smith said Tuesday evening no one had spoken with him about the issue. But he was open to sending copies to City Hall.

"If that's where they need to be and we need a copy of them, sure," Smith said.

CDAs are created by cities to offer incentives to lure large commercial projects, like Oxford's Wal-Mart Supercenter and the Oxford Exchange shopping center. Oxford's CDA developed the properties for these businesses using a combination of borrowed money, money made from the sale of city-owned property, and taxpayer money.

The CDA spent millions on these developments. The city has made millions more in sales taxes.

But the Oxford CDA members and its projects have several ties with Smith's political fundraising. Phillips, who also serves as the CDA's attorney as well as the attorney of the city's school board, donated $500 to Smith in 2008.

Smith has said there is nothing wrong with these connections.

When The Star requested the contracts in January city officials told a reporter they were contained in Phillips' office. After receiving the request, Phillips made all contracts available for inspection.

Some information about the CDA also came from the city's finance department.

The law authorizing the creation of CDAs defines its principal office as, "The place at which the certificate of incorporation and amendments thereto, the bylaws, and the minutes of the proceedings of the board of an authority are kept."

The law also says, "The principal office of the authority … shall be within the corporate limits of the municipality with whose governing body such application is filed."

The office of the CDA is listed on the Alabama Secretary of State's Web site as 100 Choccolocco Street, the old location of Oxford's City Hall. The CDA currently meets at the new City Hall on U.S. 78.

Dennis Bailey, an attorney for the Alabama Press Association, said while the law does not specifically name contracts, it's reasonable to assume these documents would be kept in the principal office as well.

"It would be implied all their records would be kept there, not just those," Bailey said. "… Whatever records are kept ought to be at the principal office."

Tom Turley, a local government records archivist for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said there are small penalties for not properly storing records. He spoke on records-keeping generally because he did not know of Oxford's CDA.

"I think that would fall under the definition of alienating records or destroying records," Turley said. "It is considered to be a Class A misdemeanor, a $100 fine and up to a year in jail. The only way that would be prosecuted is if somebody in the city or the county (prosecuted it)."

He said it's important for government bodies to keep records where they originate because that's where people will expect to find them.
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CDA contracts not at Oxford City Hall by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer

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