In a rare moment of unity, Midway’s City Council voted unanimously to approve construction bids on the Community Development Block Grant Housing Rehabilitation Program, so builders can begin work on the project.
The grant, approved Thursday, May 17 at a special city council meeting, awarded contracts and incentives up to $85,948 to construction companies who bid to construct or renovate houses of those in need. Six homes belonging to elderly, sick and disabled Midway residents will be reconstructed or renovated in an effort to help those in need.
“I’m very happy with where we are; I’m ecstatic,” Midway City Manager Leslie Steele said. “We’re getting to give our most vulnerable citizens homes. Some of these residences are almost unlivable. They’re not going to owe a dime on this new home, not a dime. It’s theirs. All they have to do is simply live in it.”
The city awarded the projects to Chief Cornerstone Construction, J.G. Parker Enterprises, Florida Homes Inc., and C.B. Construction.
Emma Lamb, a disabled Midway Resident and one of the grant’s aid recipients, said it will be a great help to her.
“It’s going to be a great effect,” Lamb said. “It’s making a great difference to get things moving. They’re going to help me with a handicapped bathroom and handicapped ramp, and I’ve just been waiting for the council members to get all their stuff together so we can get moving.”
The grant passed despite protests from former Midway City Manager Auburn Ford. Ford told council members his company outbid the competitors on three of the grant projects, yet he was not awarded any project. Ford, who brought his attorney to the meeting, has said he is suing the city, in part because the city banned his construction company from conducting business in Midway.
The council voted to suspend business with Ford in February because he was out of compliance with Midway building regulations on numerous properties. Ford contends he is in compliance.
“I think it’s a miscarriage of justice that’s violated my due process rights,” Ford said. “I gave them the documents they want, but they still won’t address it. They want to financially harm me. That’s vendetta, that’s meanness.”
At the meeting Ford presented papers he says prove he is in compliance with the law, and pled for the council to revoke his suspension so he could participate in the Community Development Block Grant project. However, because of Ford’s lawsuit, City Attorney Anthony Thomas advised the council not to discuss the matter.
“At this point he’s drawn the line in the sand with his lawyer’s intent to sue,” Thomas said. “At that point everybody lawyers up. There’s no discussion after that.”
Despite this, council members Ronald Colston and Carolyn Francis both asked that Ford be allowed to conduct business in Midway.
“We’re talking about this man’s livelihood,” Colston said. “My concern is if this is just petty, personal vendettas, we don’t need to be doing this. We should have some concern about restoring his ability to do business.”
City Manager Steele told the council Ford is still noncompliant.
“I assure you, if he comes in showing he is in compliance with all of those things, we don’t have a problem giving him back his license,” Steele said. “To me, it would be easier to give it back to him. But he’s not in compliance.”
Ford asked the council to suspend the vote on approving the construction bids for the grant until he could be included in the bidding process. Citing the urgency of meeting housing needs, the council voted to accept the bids.
“They wouldn’t have gotten new homes, people that deserve new homes,” Steele said. “From a grant that he (Auburn Ford) wrote. Because he couldn’t get what he wanted. Is that fair? I don’t think so. We’re servants, and at some point you have to decide when the people come first. And that’s been the biggest problem in Midway, the people haven’t come first.”
Ford, who originally applied for the Community Development Block Grant during his tenure as City Manager, said he believes he will be awarded the grant bids as part of lawsuit damages, without needing to construct anything.
“I’d rather build the houses than get awarded free money for the damages, because that’s what’s going to happen,” Ford said. “There’s no going back. They’ve already caused me damages. It’ll be the biggest lawsuit they’ve ever paid out.”
City Attorney Thomas said despite “what a lot of people say,” the Midway council is capable of unifying on important issues.
“This council, they work together, and you saw it tonight. We’re still able to come together, to understand that we have to make sure that these people got their homes,” Thomas said. “This council unifies. They may be polarized in so many other different issues, but they work together when it’s time to work together.”