The Jackson City Council is asking for a complete audit of the Metrocenter Mall project before it clears any city departments to move into the former Belk building.
City administration put the relocation of four city departments to the former Belk building on the City Council's agenda for the Sept. 4 regular meeting, but Council members chose to pull the item until they could get someone to complete a full audit of the project.
Council President Tony Yarber said the Council will meet Thursday to decide whether to use a private auditing firm, the city's internal auditor or request a state auditor to lead the process. If they choose to go with a private auditing firm, the city will bid out the job.
Some Council members, including Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman, have raised questions of where developer Retro Metro has spent the funds from a $5.1 million bond it received for the project.
"Business is business with me. If something seems like it's missing, and nobody wants to discuss it and give you an answer, I've got a problem with that," Tillman said after the council's special meeting Sept. 10 at City Hall.
The city has paid Retro Metro, headed by Socrates Garrett, Leroy Walker and Howard Catchings, $50,000 so far to upgrade communications wiring in the building. They will pay another $200,000 plus interest over five years for improvements. The $5.1 million bond was a private issue, though, Garrett said, and no public money is at stake as far as that funding goes.
"I just want to know the answer that makes sure we're don't get the city in trouble and we're good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Tillman said.
Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson didn't want to move some departments into the building now and begin paying rent, not knowing when the others would be able to move in.
"The way it's been going, it could be six (or) seven more months before the others ones get in there," Bluntson said.
The project began last year, when the city agreed to rent the building from Retro Metro to house six city departments, including human and cultural services, water and sewer, and parks and recreation.
Developer David Watkins recently cut his ties to Retro Metro and the project. He said he left that partnership to focus on the long-delayed Farish Street entertainment district, which his company, Watkins Development, is heading.
Email Jacob D. Fuller at Jacob@jacksonfreepress.com.