White Hall mayor and council clash at meeting

Published 4:02 pm Friday, November 6, 2015

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
Disagreement between White Hall Mayor James Walker and the White Hall Town Council over hiring and firing authority resulted in a strange ending to Thursday night’s White Hall Town Council meeting.
After Walker attempted to adjourn the meeting by executive order during discussion of hiring and firing procedures, and after he left the meeting room, the council remained in session and voted in the mayor’s absence to accept a letter of resignation from mayor pro tem Glenn Mallard.
It all occurred on a night the council received its 2013 and 2014 audit reports, heard from Sewer Project Engineer Evan Morgan of Constantine Engineering and the council tabled action items citing the need for the mayor and council to work together.
Eric Love told the council he could not give an opinion on the council’s 2013 audit, but gave the council “a clean opinion” for 2014. He said his findings for both audits included a need for separation of duties and cited the under funding of a debt service reserve account and replacement and extension funds.
Morgan told the council plans for the sewer project were ready to be submitted to USDA and ADECA. He said the project actually dates back to 2010.
He said phase one of the project goes from Jackson-Steele Elementary to U.S. 80. He also said the project includes 57 residential and three commercial properties, the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, Jackson-Steele Elementary and the community center. He said it does not include the casino (electronic bingo facility).
Walker said the community center was not part of the plan. He said the town was not concerned about the residential hookups, but the commercial property, which was part of the original plan, which he said, included the entertainment complex.
Seaborn said, “My question is if it was in in 2010, and its not in there now, who changed that?”
Morgan said he could request the plan from USDA to see if there were changes in what they have and what he has. He said funding was based on what USDA has approved.
Seaborn concluded the matter saying, “We need a letter of clarification.”
The council began Thursday night’s meeting with a five to zero approval of the October minutes and a four to one vote to approve a 2016 event calendar, including Halloween as Octoberfest. Rudolph was opposed.
Mayor Walker next called for approval of business license fees for the towns, which he called “a major revenue source” for the town.
Seaborn noted that the fees were those for the town of Hayneville. He said, “I think ours needs to be specific for White Hall.”
Walker said the intent was to use Hayneville’s fees as a format.
Seaborn said, however, the differences between the two town’s fees should be clarified before a vote was taken.
Barnfield called for the mayor to work with directly with the council on the fees, and action on the license fees were tabled.
Next, Walker said he had been advised by a League of Municipalities attorney that the town needed  to send a termination letter to its former acting police chief and move forward with the hiring of a new police chief. Walker said the letter had been sent and there was not a response. He said the individual had 10 days to reply.
Rudolph told the mayor, “You should have brought it (the letter) to the council first.”
Walker said the letter was been sent through the sheriff’s office.
Seaborn said the matter should be placed on the agenda for the next meeting, and action on the police chief’s position was also tabled.
Next came discussion of the 2016 budget, which was tabled.
Seaborn raised questions about approving a budget with raises for  the current administration. “I don’t think you can vote to give yourself a raise,” he said.
Walker said there would be additional information. And he accepted Seaborn’s recommendation that council members be allowed to work with the mayor on the budget.
The council received a water board report in which it was reported that people who were supposed to be cutoff were still getting water, there were two houses on one water hookup and non registering water meters need to be corrected.
Walker reported that town hall had been painted on the inside and thanked the painter for giving his own time to the project, which cost $1,400. He also tanked the volunteer fire department for its response to a recent accident.
But things became heated between the mayor and council when Walker attempted to introduce a newly hired female police officer.
Baker said, “You are hiring police officers, and all of this, and you haven’t even considered us at all.” He said the council didn’t know anything about a police officer.
He said, “You just can’t take and hire anybody on your own without consulting with us… You need to let us know this before you hire them… We’ve got to have some input on this too.”
Seaborn immediately offered a motion that newly hired police officer be dismissed immediately since the council had no prior knowledge of the hiring.
The motion was seconded and approved with all but Walker voting in favor.
Walker told Baker said the only people hired by the council are the clerk, the municipal judge and the police chief. He said all others are not hired by the council.
Seaborn told the mayor, “It needs to be understood that every job needs to be advertised.”
And Barnfield told the mayor, “You can’t fire anyone. You can suspend them, but it needs to come before the council. You can’t fire anyone, you can’t replace  no one unless it comes before the council.”
Barnfield told the mayor, “Now, we (the council) can vote to make you have no power to hire or fire… You can write them up, but you can’t fire.
We have to vote on that.”
Walker attempted to adjourn the meeting by executive order and left the meeting room.
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Robert Harris, who was in attendance, told the council that a council meeting could be adjourned by executive order if things got hostile and there was about to be a fight.
The council then proceed to accept Mallard’s letter of resignation, which was approved with Seaborn, Baker, Rudolph and Barnfield all voting in favor.
Then the council members voted to adjourn.
Mallard appeared briefly prior to Thursday night’s meeting, but did not remain for the meeting.

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