Decatur City Council members said last week the partnership with Big Communications and the plan to rebrand the city, which has already cost $117,000, appears to be over.
In a letter to the City Council, Big Communications President Mark Ervin said his Birmingham company and the city are "currently at an impasse on the requested community engagement plan."
Council President Paige Bibbee said "it's not the fault of anyone" that the partnership with Big didn't work out but it's probably best that the city and the marketing and public relations company sever their relationship.
"Obviously, there were issues," said Bibbee, who had opposed continuing to work with Big after many city residents rejected Big's proposed "A little Different" branding plan last summer.
However, Mayor Tab Bowling said he doesn't interpret Ervin's letter as wanting to end the relationship.
"I've seen nothing that says this is done," Bowling said.
In August, City Council members agreed to let Big try again. This time they said they wanted Big to hold public meetings like those that were successful for the "One Decatur" comprehensive plan.
The city budgeted $267,000 last year for the branding effort and has spent $117,000 so far. Ervin wrote in his Nov. 20 letter that the money budgeted for the plan isn't enough to fund a plan involving community input.
"Comprehensive community engagement plans, such as the option selected, are often expensive because they are extremely time-consuming," Ervin wrote. "And the funding necessary to execute that plan is most certainly within the range that council members have stated they are unwilling to pay."
The city budgeted $150,000 for branding in fiscal 2020, and Bibbee and Councilwoman Kristi Hill said Big had not requested additional funding.
Bibbee said council members asked Big for an itemized budget for expected expenses, but never received an answer.
Ervin also expressed frustration at the lack of direct communication from city officials, requesting future communications be "in a manner other than public commentary in a council meeting."
There seemed to be a breakdown in communications from the start. Ervin said in the letter that his company's officials thought a council committee had the final decision-making power on the branding instead of the full City Council.
"This led to a misalignment and significant amounts of wasted effort, energy and time," Ervin wrote.
Ervin also complains in the letter the city didn't respond for seven weeks to Big's community engagement plan.
Councilman Charles Kirby said he thinks Big is a good company. He believes city officials from the start weren't willing to talk to Big about all of the good and bad information about Decatur.
"We're like an alcoholic that needs intervention," Kirby said. "We're in constant denial about our problems."
Bowling and Kirby said Big and the committee thought the committee had the final decision on selecting a brand.
Now that the partnership with Big appears to be over, city officials remain split on whether to continue with another branding effort. Councilman Billy Jackson and Kirby said they favor focusing on beautifying the city and paving its roads.
"We don't necessarily need a marketing firm," Jackson said. "We brand ourselves by cleaning up our city and taking care of our problems."
Bibbee, Hill and Bowling said they believe the city would benefit from a branding plan. Bibbee said she thinks the city should wait until a communications specialist is hired.
Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin said the communications specialist position was posted last week on the city's job board. The deadline to apply is Jan. 17.
Bowling suggested letting the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce lead a new effort.
"We need to get away from the politics and do what's best for the city," Bowling said.
"We've got a lot of people moving to north Alabama (to work at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA and other plants), and we need to promote Decatur as the place they want to live."