Here's a little local scandal for your entertainment. Homewood is a suburb of Birmingham where John McCain came to raise money early this week. I wonder if Mr. Campaign Finance Reform makes a habit of asking for freebies -- and if they're reported as in-kind contributions on his disclosure forms.
Homewood Mayor Barry McCulley has stepped in it with this one. He's supposed to bring requests for discounts to the City Council, but for some reason he decided to rent the McCain people a room at Rosewood Hall for $250, substantially less than the going rate of $1,200 for a weeknight event. He also provided free inmate labor to set up the tables and chairs, waiving the usual $100 set-up fee.
Homewood Mayor Barry McCulley said the rental rate was discounted because the event was on Monday, a slow day for business. City Council members say they always vote on such discounts but didn't get a say in this deal. They're upset, as are local Democrats.
"I think it's outrageous," said Robert Yarbrough, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and a Homewood resident.
"I was charged full book rate. I was never offered any free inmate services to set up for my event. Mayor McCulley owes an apology to every citizen in Homewood as to why he arbitrarily changed the fee for this out-of-state senator from Arizona."
Yarbrough rented the entire hall, three rooms, on Thursday nights in September 2006 and September 2007 for the Democratic Blue Dot Ball fundraiser. The weekday fee is $1,700 for all three rooms, according to the official rates. Yarbrough said the Democrats paid more than $2,500 for all charges each year.
McCulley claims Council President Ginger Busby agreed to the discount, but she says different.
"The mayor asked me if the hall could be free for the McCain event, and I said absolutely not," Busby said. "He then asked if it was appropriate to charge a lesser fee for Mondays. I said as long as it didn't cost the city money, it could be considered."
That's right. The Mayor had no problem charging one of his own tax-paying citizens full freight, but he wanted to give away the store for John McCain. Does anyone else think party affiliation might have played a tiny part in his decision?
City Council member David Hooks is also concerned about the legal ramifications of the city making what amounts to an in-kind donation to a political campaign. Perhaps the Mayor just assumed that every taxpayer in Homewood is a McCain supporter. Robbie Yarbrough won't be the only person telling him he's wrong.
Cross-posted at Birmingham Blues.