White Hall mayor and council clash, meeting ends with water board incorporation questioned

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2015

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
The White Hall Town Council and Mayor James Walker clashed in a meeting Tuesday night which ended with the incorporation of the town’s water board being questioned.
The meeting began with Walker announcing that “in order to maintain peace, anyone who is disruptive tonight will be asked to leave the premises.” He said anyone making a statement should first get recognition of the chair (the mayor).
Before the meeting ended, a member of the audience was asked to leave, and three audience members walked out.
In the absence of Council member Glenn Mallard, who resigned at the last meeting, Walker and Council members Eli Seaborn, Ruby Dee Rudolph, Ceodis Baker and Joyce Barnfield were all present.
Seaborn first questioned the length and inclusion of comments in the minutes of the last meeting stating that they were not “a transcript” but “minutes.” However, the minutes were unanimously approved.
Barnfield then offered an alternative agenda to that of the mayor’s, which covered matters carried over from the last meeting. She pointed out that the council need to elect a mayor pro tem.
Walker said he would not deviate from his agenda.
After Seaborn pointed out that the agenda presented by the mayor has nothing under old minutes, Walker said the council would deal with old business under old business.
Walker then requested approval of an ordinance that would allow RDS (Revenue Discovery Systems) to research companies doing business in White Hall to determine their net gross in order to set license fees for the town. He said the town is losing about $25,000 per year in business license fees.
However, the council unanimously voted to table the matter.
Next the council and the mayor clashed over the legality of the acceptance of Mallard’s resignation at the last meeting after Walker adjourned the meeting by executive order.
Seaborn said, “Unless we get out of hand, you cannot adjourn the meeting.“ But Walker replied, “Oh, it was out of hand at the last meeting…”
Walker said the last meeting was adjourned at 8:45 p.m. and that anything after that was not “officially in the minutes.” He also said disagreement as to whether the meeting was out of hand was a matter of opinion.
The council went on to unanimously approve Seaborn as the next mayor pro tem for the council. However, Walker said Seaborn cannot be sworn in as mayor pro tem until the next regular meeting.
Next Walker attempted to remove Seaborn as a signer of town checks because he said Seaborn refused to sign a check to pay a contract worker.
That led to discussion of Walker’s suspension of the council members’ stipends for serving on the council.
Walker said he has the authority to suspend the stipends by ordinance if revenues are not available. He said he suspended the stipend because the town had to pay $17,000 to UDSA by Jan. 1. He said, “After we pay this $17,000 to USDA you will resume your stipends when the money becomes available.”
Instead of removing Seaborn, the council unanimously approved a resolution that kept Seaborn and the mayor as signers of checks for the town and added Rudolph.
Walker said he was not in agreement to declare the council seat held by Mallard vacant because the action to accept his resignation “was done illegally in the beginning.” He pointed out that the council took the action after he adjourned the last meeting by executive order.
However, at Baker’s suggestion, the council voted unanimously to accept Mallard’s resignation Tuesday night and voted unanimously to declare Mallard’s council seat vacant. Walker said the council has 30 days to fill the seat.
Barnfield requested that when Walker recommends someone for the council seat, that he give the council three names from which to choose. Walker said he would check on that “because I’m not doing to do anything that’s illegal.”
Walker also said he would give the council a date for a work session.
Walker said he had issues being threatened as mayor. He said, “I refuse to be intimidated, manipulated or dominated by anyone.”
During his report to the council, Walker said, “I don’t have a problem with you fighting me. In fact, I could care less about it. But we need to keep the town in mind… that we’re here for the town of White Hall.”
Things begin to heat up during council comments when a member of the audience were ask by law enforcement to leave, and when Seaborn questioned the mayor about a document showing the incorporation of the town’s water board.
Seaborn asked, “Who incorporated them? This council did not do it.”
Seaborn said of an incorporation document, “The DA is going to get this.” He said, “Every member of that board has signed these documents… and they‘ve got to have some document from this council that we authorized them to do it. And that hasn’t happened since I’ve been on this board.” He called it “fraud.”
Walker declined to bring a motion to the floor for a vote to dismiss the water board and the meeting was adjourned.

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