Birmingham City Councilor Kimberly Rafferty said that the work completed by a consulting firm she hired was easily documented. After numerous requests, the city has failed to produce that documentation.
In response to a story in Weld about her use of LW Associates LLC — run by father-son duo Lou Willie III and Lou Willie IV — Rafferty took issue in a series of emails and contended that the newspaper would have to seek information from the city via the Freedom of Information Act.
“If you are requesting documents from my office, the due process is in the FOIA request format,” she wrote in an email. “If you are requesting documentation on work product received or gauged by the city concerning a consulting contract, then FOIA is the due process.”
But Assistant City Attorney Mike Fliegel informed Weld that Birmingham does not have a FOIA requirement to release public information, or any equivalent form to be filled out when requesting such information from the city.
After contacting various departments — the city clerk’s office, the mayor’s office of public information, the internal audit department and the city’s legal department — Weld could find no documentation of the specific work done by LW Associates on record.
It is clear that LW Associates was hired by Rafferty to work for the city. The company was paid a lump sum of $30,000 to “work on economic developments in District 2,” as stated in the original resolution which was passed July 22, 2014.
Rafferty did not respond to questions this week regarding why she insisted a FOIA request would lead to information regarding LW Associates or why there is no documentation pertaining to the work they’ve done since being appointed by the city council last year.
Questions have been raised regarding the company’s work for the city for three reasons. First, the younger Willie once worked for Rafferty. Second, the older Willie has represented taxi companies as an attorney and LW Associates worked for Rafferty during the time she chaired the transportation committee considering whether rideshare company Uber would be allowed to gain a foothold in the city.
Third, LW Associates was hired ostensibly to do work on community events in Rafferty’s district at a time when it was portraying itself as focused on helping politicians get elected. The website where LW Associates characterized its business in political terms was subsequently reduced to a home page with only biographies of Willie III and Willie IV after questions were raised about the company.
After a story was published by Weld in which Rafferty was asked why LW Associates no longer has a website just a week after being brought in to work for the city — Rafferty responded with a string of strongly worded emails to Weld publisher Mark Kelly.
In her initial email, Rafferty took offense to the coverage surrounding LW Associates.
“This is not journalism and borders on idiocy,” she wrote.
After responding that he would be happy to talk, Kelly wrote:
“Asking public officials about how public money is spent and what public benefits are derived from any given such expenditure is in fact the essence of local journalism. On that ground alone, you will have a difficult time convincing me — and, I daresay, many discerning readers and observers — that this contract was a good expenditure, or that it should be renewed, unless there is some substantial work product that documents what the citizens of Birmingham have received in exchange for their $30,000.
“This is a fair question and a reasonable expectation. As a reader, as a citizen of Birmingham, as a person who knows something about how local government works, as a voter and as the publisher of Weld, I find it hard to understand why a conscientious public servant would resent such a question being asked.”
Rafferty’s response took issue with a Weld reporter’s interactions with her and noted that she had provided some information. She indicated that she thought Weld “was just looking for a story to gain hits and points for the magazine [sic] website.”
“I do not read Weld and do not care to,” Rafferty said.
In her email Rafferty contended that she was unclear why this reporter asked her for evidence of LW Associates’ work, why the modifications on the company website raised questions and whether her work on the Uber issue was questionable in light of her consultant’s past clientele.
“If he had wanted to come to my office and meet with me about a contract employee just because his website was down, well, that is ridiculous, but I would have entertained him with plenty of facts,” she wrote.
In a reference to Uber and Willie’s previous work, she continued, “We continue to stand before a millineal [sic] groundswell that is manipulated and tantalized by shiny, newfangled app gadgetry, convenience, and self-service with no concept of public service and no care for public safety. Social media may be pretty but it will not serve you well when the battery goes dead. You still have to engage in the human experience and our charge, as government, is to secure public safety. Which is what I am doing… With or without a damn consultants [sic] ear to bend or delegate research to. Unless you are also pissed that he authored the no texting while driving ordinance… Or helped create the new transportation code we passed in 2012, which was built from the ground up to fully flesh out cumbersome and unfair regulations.”
Rafferty referred to the work that LW Associates did for her as “mental work” that does not leave a paper trail.
“I can print out the spreadsheets and give you copies of some of the materials we compiled,” she wrote. “But a series of documents to trace his mental work wad [sic] not what I hired him for. I am sure, though, I could scan through my reports and find more. Personally I operate by talking, not paper pushing. So most of our work is mental, not transcribing. The contract did not call for him to generate a paper trail.”
It remains unclear how LW Associates’ work was tracked. The documents and spreadsheets that Rafferty mentioned in her email have yet to be provided, despite multiple requests. One of her emails to Kelly, however, did give some indication.
Rafferty wrote: “He worked in the office every Tuesday for a year. He attended every meeting on transportation and budget that I did. He worked with the legal department on transportation codes. He researched the transportation industry and the trials and tribulations of the Uber controversy. He advised on economic development ideas for the district and the city. He read documents with me to help me understand what they did or what they secured. We worked on the budget, trying to get the council to better see the issues of finance as concerning departmental expenditures were what we should be concentrating on. He created spreadsheets with numbers to reference.”
April Odom, director of communications with the mayor’s office, said that after checking with the city clerk’s office, the internal audit department and the city’s legal department for information regarding LW Associates’ work history, “We have not found anything.” Weld also reached out to those offices with the same results.
As of the time this story went to press, the spreadsheets and any other paperwork produced by the company for Rafferty remain elusive. Despite several phone calls, no representative of LW Associates has been available for comment.