Markus clarifies community foundation advisory
By Lisa Brody
In his May city manager report, Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus clarified questions following a city commission discussion over whether the city should consider creating and administering a community foundation or charity to fundraise and manage special events, physical improvements to city property or other community improvement programs after the commission declined to create such a commission.
At the April 3 city commission meeting, the commission unanimously voted that “for the foreseeable future the City has no intention of creating a community foundation,” with staff then advising that one or more commissioners getting involved with such a foundation would be a potential conflict of interest.
Markus noted that the following day, Tuesday, April 4, he received an email from commissioner Clinton Baller requesting that Birmingham become “a first-string partner who helps lead the effort” to form a foundation.
“Commissioner Baller stated that he was cognizant of management’s desire 'that the city not produce more events, but rather facilitate them,'” Markus wrote in his report. “His email went on to state that he has formed a group of community minded citizens to create a foundation to raise money for cultural events and parks, and to suggest events and parks improvements. However, the email further suggests that the contributing organizations 'and possibly the city, would run the events, and the city would be responsible for parks improvements.' Further, commissioner Baller goes on to suggest that the city consider hiring an events coordinator to join city staff.”
Markus responded that there is currently no one on staff that has the available time and expertise to plan, organize and implement special events and cultural activities, and such an employee would cost $100,000-$120,000 a year. In addition, he noted, the city would bear the liability of the events, have to pay for police and fire and pay DPS for clean up.
He noted that currently private groups running special events bear those costs and responsibilities.
While Baller asked if there is an opportunity to try it out on a part-time basis and asked if the commission were willing to budget for it, Markus pointed out, “The unanimous motion of the city commission on April 3, 2023 clearly shows that the city commission has no interest at this time in establishing a community foundation to fund events or park improvements, even on a trial or part-time basis. The city commission has not discussed this specific budgetary request, nor has an event coordinator position been proposed in the upcoming budget.”
Markus went on to note that the commission's vote on April 3 was unanimous – and that while Baller's email stated he is willing to personally fund the cost of establishing a foundation, it conflicts with the wishes of the commission, advice of the city attorney and himself as a conflict of interest, and that “Baller should seek an advisory opinion from the ethics board prior to any such involvement in a community foundation to identify potential ethics ordinance violations that may occur as a result.”
“Allow me to state once again that the city is not interested in being a first string partner, nor leading or funding the effort to establish a foundation or to organize numerous cultural and special events. City staff is currently stretched very thin with their existing workload, and continues to have difficulty recruiting and maintaining qualified personnel due to a tough labor market, and now the city commission has directed the creation and addition of two new citizen committees (Environmental Sustainability Committee and the Ad Hoc Aging in Place Committee)…. To take on cultural or special events that could be run by other groups would jeopardize the quantity and quality of city services currently provided that Birmingham residents have come to expect,” Markus emphasized.