Information about a company paid by the Birmingham City Council to coordinate community events has become harder to find ever since news surfaced that the firm is heavily geared toward “getting candidates elected.”
LW Associates LLC, a consulting firm appointed by the city to work for Birmingham City Councilor Kimberly Rafferty, apparently no longer has a website.
LW Associates, according to city records, was paid a lump sum of $30,000 for coordinating community events, building neighborhood relations and to “work on economic development projects in District 2,” as stated in a council resolution.
But the website for the company, which was active in the days immediately following the resolution, was initially focused not upon broad-based community events but on campaigning and turning out voters.
“Build your Brand and Visibility now so you can campaign later!” the website stated. “Cheaply and quickly get your message out to a large number of voters. Robocalls are great for announcements such as endorsements.”
Also on the website was a list of techniques used by LW Associates to get candidates reelected such as “yard signage” and, as the website initially read, “VOTER REGISTRATION: Create new turnout targets and turn the tide of the election! Not only are you helping out your campaign, but you are adding voices to the democratic process.”
Less than a week after the city council appointment, the LW Associates website changed dramatically, leaving nothing but a home page with bios of Lou Willie III and Lou Willie IV, the father and son who own the company. All language regarding campaigning and voter registration by that time had been deleted.
As of this writing, LW Associates no longer has a website. The changes in LW Associates’ web presence apparently don’t bother Rafferty. “Now, no one has to have a web site to be a valid business or do business with the city,” Rafferty wrote to a Weld reporter. “The business of his firm is his responsibility. For my office, his requirement is to fulfill the terms of the contractual agreement with this office, which he has. So, why would a paid-in-full contract at the end of the fiscal year and the lack of a website be a red flag to you?”
Rafferty has a long connection with LW Associates through the younger Willie. Willie IV worked on her staff from 2009-2011.
Asked if she could produce any documented instances of work LW Associates has produced for the city over the last year, Rafferty responded, “Lou Willie IV has a consulting firm that does a plethora of different things. The only thing that concerns me is his work ethic, his integrity, his ability, and whether or not he achieves the goals and charges set forth by the contract of service,” Rafferty wrote. “I do not monitor nor have the right to judge or query what an individual business does, as long it operates within the law, does not conflict with the contract business we are engaged in, and they produce what they are required to produce.”
The younger Willie works with his father, who is an attorney. According to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, the elder Willie is the registered agent for LW Associates. Their firm, LW Associates began consulting for Rafferty at about the same time as she was working on deciding something connected with some of the elder Willie’s clients – the fate of ridesharing company Uber.
As an attorney, the elder Willie is not only a principal in LW Associates, he represents several taxicab companies in Birmingham, which were opposed to Uber, a company which competes directly with traditional cab service.
According to Rafferty, Lou Willie III’s connections to cab companies is no cause for concern. “LW Associates never represented any cab companies…Lou Willie III is an attorney who has represented one or another of the small owners over the vast history of time. Lou Willie IV is not an attorney and does not work for his father so you seem to have your facts misconstrued here,” Rafferty said.
Some facts, however, are clear. During the period when LW Associates was working as Rafferty’s outside consulting firm, Rafferty was serving as chair of the council’s transportation and communications committee, where discussions of Uber were taking place.
Rafferty has said that the city reached out to Uber to discuss the company’s viability in Birmingham. Uber’s representatives, though, said that the relevant city ordinances were “anti-consumer” — too strict for the app-based rideshare company work in Birmingham.
When negotiations fell through, Uber fired off an open letter critical of the council and singled Rafferty out for particular criticism. Because of this, Rafferty said, LW Associates was bullied into changing its website. “His desire to morph a company he is building is not suspicious,” she wrote. “It is his right as a business owner.”
LW Associates, however, changed its website before the Uber decision and before Uber openly criticized the decision, the council and Rafferty.
Despite the timing, Rafferty blames Uber and those who supported its efforts for hounding LW Associates into making the web changes.
“I would assume after the unsubstantiated accusations and attacks that Uber supporters engineered through social media and the press caused him to rethink his set up and again, as is his God given [sic] right, to modify his presentation and if that included no internet [sic] linkage, well, that is legal, is it not?” Rafferty wrote in an email. “I too, if unfairly and libelously attacked by a $40 billion bully and the minions, would tend to step back and reformulate my business plan.”
The contract between LW Associates and the Birmingham City Council remains valid. Scheduled to expire this month, it is also expected to be extended another year, Rafferty said. “Mr. Willie will continue to work for this office, as I am sure other contract employees will do for other councilors as they move forward, in the next fiscal year,” Rafferty said.
Efforts to reach LW Associates were unsuccessful.