Where does White Hall go from here? Mayor and council continue to clash
Published 4:34 pm Friday, January 8, 2016
By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
“I’m not sure how far we are going or where we are going from here, but there are serious, serious problems here…”
Those were the words of White Hall Mayor Pro Tem Eli Seaborn, as an ongoing clash between White Hall Mayor James Walker and the White Hall Town Council continued Thursday night.
Seaborn also announced Thursday night that the state Attorney General has said there will be people in White Hall to find out what has been going on.
The regularly scheduled council meeting ended Thursday night without a single action recommended by Walker getting a motion from the council. And the only actions approved by the council occurred after the meeting was adjourned by Walker by executive order.
Following the adjournment by executive order, the council unanimously voted to adjourn its special meeting from Dec. 29.
The council also unanimously approved a resolution to authorize the mayor to reestablish the White Hall Water Board Account with the First Citizens Bank of Hayneville and “resolved that First Citizens Bank recover unauthorized funds withdrawn from this previous water board account and restore it to the newly established water board account…” However, the council later voted unanimously to rescind that resolution.
And the council voted unanimously to adjourn Thursday night’s council meeting.
In the past, Walker has stated actions taken after a meeting was adjourned by executive order were not part of the official minutes.
Thursday’s meeting marked the second time in recent months that a White Hall Town Council meeting was adjourned by mayor’s executive order and marked the second time such an adjourned meeting was continued by the White Hall Town Council despite those executive orders to adjourn.
Thursday night’s meeting followed a work session and a special called meeting by the council in which several actions were taken by the council, which Walker contended was not properly done.
The special called meeting held on Dec. 29 was conducted in the absence of Walker and Town Clerk Shanavia Sellers at the Jackson-Steele Community Center after White Hall Town Hall was found to be locked and notice of the meeting being moved was posted by Seaborn.
The Dec. 29 meeting was also continued by the council until Thursday night to make sure actions taken by the council were legal.
Actions taken by the council on Dec. 29 and listed to an audience of about 40 people Thursday night included dismissal of the town clerk (Sellers) and the town attorney (who identified himself Thursday night as Patrick Arrington), the dismissal of the five water board (authority) members, the appointment of former White Hall Mayor Elizabeth Davis to the vacant council previously held by Glenn Mallard, the hiring former Town Clerk Bertha White (as temporary town clerk) and the authorization of Seaborn by the council to seek legal advice.
Seaborn told the Signal on Friday that the council’s actions taken Dec. 29 would have to be followed up by a letter from the mayor to those affected. However, when pressed as to what happens if the mayor doesn’t provide the letter(s), Seaborn said, “I don’t think anybody knows how all of this is going to work out. I don’t know if someone else of a higher authority is going to have to get involved in this or what.”
Seaborn said the council checked what they did on Dec. 29 with another city attorney, whom he did not name. He stated that attorney said what the council did was “legal and above board.”
When also contacted by The Signal on Friday, Walker declined to comment on the council actions.
Thursday’s night meeting began with Seaborn attempting to close the special called meeting of the council held Dec. 29. Walker refused to entertain the motion and continued the meeting with the opening prayer and regular council agenda.
The council followed Walker’s actions with refusal to answer the rollcall for Thursday night’s meeting, as well as refusal to act on recommendations by the mayor to approve the Dec. 8 meeting minutes, the 2016 Severe Weather Preparedness Tax Holiday, a resolution to reinstate a water and sewerage bank account and a recommendation to fill Glenn Mallard’s vacant council seat.
The mayor offered a resolution reinstate a White Hall Water and Sewage bank account with First Citizens Bank. The account, according to Walker, would require the signatures of Walker, Seaborn and Council member Ruby Rudolph, as well as provide oversight and inquiry privileges to Sellers.
Walker said, “I accept full responsibility of the misunderstanding that we had with the bank as far as the water and sewage account.”
That led to a discussion of why the account had to be reinstated. Walker said the original account was closed because of “the discrepancy in opening up another account that wasn’t authorized.” When pressed by Council member Ceodis Baker, he said, checks for contact workers with the water authority were not being signed, and to avoid legal ramifications, “The water board went to the bank and asked could they change the account.”
He said he understood it was okay for them to change it because everything the bank required was produced. He said, “It was approved. The account was opened. A month later the account was null and voided… it wasn’t done right. So, we had to retract on that.”
Baker asked, “How could you do something as important as this and not let your council board know anything about it?”
Walker said he gave the water board the authority based on the water board’s incorporation papers and the bank’s okay and took responsibility for the action.
There was no motion by the council to approve the bank account resolution.
The mayor then recommended that Ellis Bandy fill Mallard’s vacant seat. And again there was no motion from the council to approve the resolution.
Sellers reported on upcoming municipal election information, as well as setting pay for the next White Hall administration.
Seaborn again attempted to close out the special called council meeting, which he said “was a legal meeting.”
Despite contradiction from Baker and Seaborn, Walker said, “I did not condone a meeting. I did not tell you all I approved that meeting.” He also said, “I’m not going to entertain any motion pertaining to a meeting that I wasn’t part of.”
Sheriff John Williams told the council, “We need to leave here in peace. This is a new year.”
Walker next told the council and the audience, “The regular scheduled council meeting is adjourned on executive order. Now any meeting after that, I have no authority with that. Thank everybody for coming out.” He and Sellers then left the meeting.
Seaborn said, “We thank you citizens for being so patient with what’s happening here, but you see how serious this problem is, and it’s got to be rectified one way or the other.”
And Arrington told the council that the paperwork he prepared for the water board’s incorporation was legal.