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November 8, 2012 10:53:36 AM
With proposed bus routes and a campaign for private donations in play, Lawrence Transit System is poised to bring its services to Columbus. But months after it was initially discussed, the Indiana-based transit system still does not have a contractual agreement with the city. And after a Wednesday conference call between city officials and transit owner Cliff Redden, an official agreement is still being negotiated.
Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said he has no idea how long it will be before the buses arrive in Columbus, but the city is "still actively pursuing this."
In August, Travis Jones, the city's director of federal programs, presented the idea to the city council. According to Jones, Redden was interested in bringing some buses to Columbus "at no cost to the city," but the city would need to provide some in-kind services, such as signs and pick-up points.
In an e-mail sent to local media from Jones Nov. 1, Redden provided a press release encouraging local business owners and private citizens to donate shelters or shelter material for the bus company's pick-up points.
In an excerpt from the press release, Redden stated he is forming a partnership with the City of Columbus.
"The City of Columbus and Lawrence Transit System in partnership are bringing the New Public Transportation to our City. In doing so we are asking that the Business Community: Offices, retail, restaurants, and all other businesses within The City of Columbus, and the surrounding areas where the buses will serve help in providing shelters for the bus stops serving your location in the City."
The email was signed "City of Columbus, MS and Lawrence Transit System."
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem both stated they had not been contacted about the email or soliciting donations from private entities.
"We approved the request to let the bus system operate in Columbus but that's been it," Box said. "We are still trying to work out an agreement. Right now, we are basically operating on a handshake, and that's no way to do business."
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin has been a supporter of the project since it was introduced. Gavin, who teaches at the Mayhew campus of East Mississippi Community College, said he thinks a bus line to and from the Lowndes County campus would be beneficial to both students and the local economy.
On Monday, Gavin said he still hopes to see the project come to fruition.
"This project was brought to the city as a 'no cost to the city' deal," Gavin said. "I will not support something that is going to cost the city money when we were told otherwise. My impression is the city was going to help get some federal grant money to help build the shelters. I came on board because I thought it would be good for the Mayhew students and other people that want to pay to ride. I still think it will be a great thing if it materializes."
Gavin, like Box and Karriem, said he had no knowledge of the email seeking donations from the business community on the city's behalf.
"No, I was not aware of this," he said. "Even though (Lawrence Transit) is a non-profit, they are in it for profit. It's a business."
According to the Indiana Secretary of State's website, Lawrence Transit System is a non-profit domestic corporation. It was created April 5 and is an active company. The Indianapolis Recorder newspaper stated that Redden, who owns the company with his wife, Paula Redden, began his bus service in Lawrence May 19.
Calls placed to Jones and Redden's Columbus representative, Dorothy Dowdell, were not immediately returned.
City Attorney Jeff Turnage, when questioned on what the city's liabilities and obligations will be to the bus line, said the company will operate as a private business.
"I don't think the city has any intention of being in a partnership with Lawrence Transit," Turnage said. "We will try to help get some grant money for the benefit of the citizens who may need the service. We are currently working on a contract between the city and Mr. Redden."
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