Why would Northport, Alabama’s City Administrator Scott Collins ever say anything like, “I can assure you that if you get a council or a group of people that are run by three Judy Hayes-like people, we’re toast. We’re beyond toast“?
The only person who could ever answer that question might be Scott Collins. Perhaps he thought that if the Council were composed of people who not support his every move his reign as the Czar of Northport would be imperiled?
Collins assumed his job as City Administrator in 2008, after having been elected to the City Council in 2004. His term on the Council expired in 2008 and he did not run again.
Collins had been the financial officer of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority before becoming City Administrator in Northport. At the time that he left the Housing Authority, there was controversy over its book keeping.
Robert DeWitt reported in The Tuscaloosa News in 2008 that the executive director of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority Rick Herbert was critical of Collins:
In response to two of the findings, Herbert placed the blame on former financial officer Scott Collins, who is now the Northport city administrator.
Collins responded to the charge, saying, “The Housing Authority retained an independent accounting firm to close the audit year. All of the reporting was done in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and HUD regulations.”
Dewitt further reported on the Housing Authority controversy in 2009: “The authority’s operations and management received unfavorable reports following a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development site visit, an audit and an independent investigation that led to the firing of the executive director.”
The Tuscaloosa Housing Authority Board had hired Attorney Bruce Henderson to investigate complaints that HUD had made against the Housing Authority. After Collins became Northport’s City Administrator, within a month, Henderson was hired by Northport to work in its Human Resources department.
The help wanted ad for the position of Northport City Administrator ran in the Tuscaloosa News on Sunday, Nov 2, 2008. There had been no authorization by a resolution of the Northport City Council to run the advertisement. Reportedly it was placed in the newspaper at the direction of Collins and then Council Member William Tunnell. The City Administrator position had previously been eliminated in 2007 by the City Council. The day-to-day operations were then overseen by the City Clerk.
Scott Collins left his Council seat on Monday, Nov 3, 2008, and became the Northport City Administrator on Dec 15, 2008. Section 36-25-13 of the Alabama Ethic Law states:
c) No public official, director, assistant director, department or division chief, purchasing or procurement agent having the authority to make purchases, or any person who participates in the negotiation or approval of contracts, grants, or awards or any person who negotiates or approves contracts, grants, or awards shall enter into, solicit, or negotiate a contract, grant, or award with the governmental agency of which the person was a member or employee for a period of two years after he or she leaves the membership or employment of such governmental agency.
Does the job contract that Collins entered into with the City of Northport to become its City Administrator conflict with the state ethics law? Collins had been on the Council immediately before he became City Administrator.
As soon as Collins had become the City Administrator, Council Member Steve Acker was quoted In the Northport Gazette as having said that he was happy that Northport had a City Administrator to run the city.
Acker’s last day serving on the Council was September 21, 2015. It had been necessary for him to resign before his term was completed after he had moved out of the city limits. Among his parting words were: “One thing on Scott Collins, the thing that I hear a lot, is people want to get on Scott Collins that he runs the city. I’m pretty sure that, when we hired him seven years ago, we hired him to run the city.”
Acker was at least consistent in failing to understand his role as a Council Member. The legal obligation of a Council Member was to govern the city and to be accountable for taxpayer money. The actual role of the City Administrator would be carry out the policies set by the Council and to operate under the oversight of the Council, not to “run the city.”
When the interviews for candidates to replace Acker took place they were asked six questions. Collins had requested that each of the four remaining Council Members compose a question. He told them that he would come up with the other two. He had not been given authority by the Council to create a format for the interview that might have limited questioning.
It’s ironic that one Council Member’s question was: “Are you aware that the City Administrator is only an employee of the City of Northport and that he serves at the direction of the City Council?” All of the candidates answered affirmatively.
One way in which Collins operates is exemplified by the way he gave away taxpayer money in 2009 when he turned over money from a maintenance trust to a foundation. The Council had authorized the transfer of the money in the trust fund in 2009. But it was not until 2010 that a resolution which established any conditions for the transfer was passed retroactively. In so doing the Council revoked an earlier agreement that had set up an irrevocable trust.
Another way that Collins has run the city is by getting the Council to pass a resolution that essentially gave him the authority to write a blank check. That happened in the case of Resolution 2014-20 (Firestation property
) which authorized the acquisition of property. The property had been justified initially for use as a fire truck themed “pocket park” for children. There was no set limit in the resolution on how much he could spend on acquiring the property.
He bought the property at an amount that was higher than its market value. The purchase was later added to a consent agenda that the Council was to vote on. One Council member, who objected to the price and its use as a park for children that would be located next to a fire station, refused to vote on the consent agenda unless the purchase authorization was removed. The purchase was then defeated as a stand-alone agenda item. It was not until two weeks later that the Council approved the purchase by a resolution.
In fact Collins had purchased the property on the Friday before the Council meeting in which the purchase had been on the consent agenda. The deed had been filed at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse on the morning of that Council meeting. It took over two weeks between the time Collins had purchased the land and its authorization by the Council.
One more example of Collins’ modus operandi would be in the case of a resolution that authorized a foundation to remove the contents from a city owned building. The lease that the foundation had signed in 2010 specifically stipulated that it could not remove any of the building’s contents. In 2014 a representative of the foundation informed Collins that historical records had been removed from the building. Collins drew up a resolution in 2015 that gave the foundation the right to remove the records while repairs to the building were being made. Of course the historical records had been actually removed long before any repairs had begun. But the Council passed a resolution which retroactively gave permission to the foundation for the removal of contents from the building regardless of the lease agreement. The foundation had signed a twenty year lease agreement but had backed out four years later, after the contents were removed.
Scott Collins role as the Czar of Northport would certainly be affected if there were at least three Council members who might not vote in lockstep with his plans for the city. It is even possible that the position of City Administrator might once again be eliminated.
The only question then would be: “How do you like your toast?”