HAMILTON - The Hamilton City Council has decided not to renew its contract with its retail recruitment agency, Retail Strategies of Birmingham.
The council voted 1-5 against renewing its contract with the agency, choosing not to make its payment of $40,000 at its meeting held on Monday, Sept. 17, after only one year into a three-year partnership. The only one in favor of rejoining the Birmingham group was Hamilton Mayor Bob Page.
Voting against were council members Tami Lewis Williams, Kenneth Cochran, Gene Sanderson, Bobby Joe Irvin and Herb Winsett voted.
The council was revisiting the matter, having tabled a decision at a prior meeting held on Tuesday, Sept. 4, where the business’ chief operations officer, Scott VonCannon, and chief executive officer, Robert Jolly, were in attendance.
The agency represents approximately 140 municipalities across 30 states. VonCannon told the council they have been under contract with the City of Jasper for the past six years and have filled empty retail space and recruited retailors to Jasper’s Interstate 22 Exit 65.
At that meeting, the two officers told the council that the agency’s first 12 months in Hamilton were unusually successful with numerous meetings being held with national retailors and the successful recruitment of a $2 million Jack’s Family Restaurant, which is expected to generate $51,000 in local sales tax revenue annually.
After choosing to leave C3 of Northwest Alabama in March 2017, the Hamilton council hired the agency in July 2017 at a cost of $45,000 and signed a three-year agreement which allowed the city to revisit its agreement yearly. They were told at that time not to expect any results for 18 months as the agency was conducting studies and analyses of the area.
Regardless, councilman Gene Sanderson hammered a team from the agency during a work session in August (12 months into their contract) about their lack of results.
The council’s discussions surrounding the agency have been turbulent over the last several months as there was much confusion about the agency’s involvement with a high-demand tax incentive requested by Jack’s.
Councilman Kenneth Cochran accused the agency during the Sept. 4 meeting of conspiring with Jack’s to get a tax incentive, despite the fact that both Jack’s and Retail Strategies have repeatedly said that the agency was only the messenger.
VonCannon told the Journal Record that as a part of the company’s services, each incentive is vetted by Retail Strategies to protect their municipalities.
The COO said that he vetted Jack’s incentive request and, having found that it was legitimate to off-set costs, forwarded it to the city for it to decide what it should do. He says this was misconstrued as advocating for the tax incentive.
The council took no action to grant Jack’s a tax incentive worth $330,000 at its Aug. 20 meeting. Regardless, the restaurant broke ground two days later.
With no discussion at the Sept. 17 meeting, Page introduced the topic and asked for a motion to continue its contract.
After a long, silent pause, Tami Lewis Williams motioned for a vote and it was seconded by Cochran.
Page told the Journal Record there may be discussion in October to rejoin C3, which the council was unanimous in leaving last year.
See complete story in the Journal Record.