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Hearing on council seat election set for May 2, Hayneville Town Council votes to appoint mayor pro tem, terminates town attorney and police chief

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

Meeting in a special called meeting on Wednesday, April 18, in the absence of Mayor David Daniel and Council member Kim Payton, the Hayneville Town Council voted to appoint Lula Tyson-Bailey as mayor pro tem, to terminate town attorney Michael Strickland, to do away with the position of economic development director held by Helenor Bell, to terminate Police Chief Kelvin Mitchell and voted to have a town audit.

When contacted for comment, Town Attorney Michael Strickland said, “The town council only has the authority to hire and fire certain employees of the town of Hayneville.” He also said a hearing is set for Wednesday, May 2 concerning the setting of dates to fill the vacant seat on the town council (now held by Justin Pouncey).

Strickland said, “The town council does not have the ability to hire or fire the attorney for the town of Hayneville per Code of Alabama and the legal counsel of the Alabama League of Municipalities. The attorney as well as many other positions are controlled by the mayor only.”

However, Strickland told the Signal, the police chief is hired and fired by the council and the economic development position can be abolished by the council.

Police Chief Kelvin Mitchell appeared before the council to ask why he was being terminated, but was told that would be addressed at the next council meeting.

Present for the meeting were Council members Sharon Reeves, Cynthia McDonald, Tyson-Bailey and Pouncey.

Tyson-Bailey said actions taken Wednesday should have been done at an organizational meeting in November, 2016.

She said, however, of Wednesday’s action, “It’s not over… they are going to file something… Go to court… So, it’s just an on and on battle… our thing might be in court until next election.”

To that point, Strickland said Lowndes County Circuit Judge Terri Bozeman Lovell will hold a hearing on Wednesday, May 2nd concerning the setting of dates to fill the vacant seat (now held by Pouncey) on the town council. The Signal confirmed with the Lowndes County Circuit Clerk’s Office that a hearing in the matter will be held on that date at 9 a.m.

The vote to appoint Tyson-Bailey as mayor pro tem was unanimous. Strickland was voted to be terminated as town attorney with Pouncey abstained. The economic development position was voted to be terminated with Reeves abstained. Mitchell was voted to be terminated as police chief unanimously. And the request for a town audit was voted to be approved unanimously.

Standing with Mitchell following the meeting were Cynthia Payton Carter, Town Clerk Susie Smith, Hayneville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jesse McCall, Jimmy Davis and Tracy Payton Martin.

Mitchell said the vote for his termination was “not our people’s action. This is the powers that be up here in the courthouse.”

He said, “I do not have single demerit in my record… in 14 years… There is no reason at all for my termination.” And he asked, “How am I going to get a reason if I’m terminated.”

Mitchell said the only reason he is gone is “because the white people want me gone, straight like that.” He referred to the upcoming district judge election in Lowndes County saying the county is now in a position to have the first black district judge. He said the county is about 80 percent black.

He said the Caucasian attorneys in the courthouse are “Afraid now. The power structure has been changed here. That’s what this is about.”

Mitchell said, “I’m just going to take one day at a time, let the good Lord be the guide.” He said he would leave any action up to his attorney, who he would not name.

Carter called Pouncey, who was recently appointed to the council at a special called meeting, a fake council member and asked, “Why he was allowed to vote?” She said, “We were told there was supposed to be a new election, and I’m just lost for words.”

The special council meeting at which Pouncey was appointed to fill the council seat that had held by Carole C. Scrushy came on the heels of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that upheld a Lowndes County Circuit Court ruling by Lovell that the May 23, 2017 election of Scrushy was illegal and void.

Upon Pouncey’s appointment,  Strickland said the town would seek an opinion from the League of Municipalities and the approval of Lovell.

Strickland told the Signal of the March 21 meeting of council at which Pouncey was appointed, there was a special call meeting to set the dates for an election to fill the vacant seat and to vote on a municipal upgrade project only.

He said, “The agenda only contained the information to vote on the municipal project and to set the dates for the special election.”

Strickland said, “For all town, city and county council/commission meetings, notice must always be given to the general public and to all members of the council pursuant to the law of the State of Alabama.  That notice must state what matters will be addressed by the town council.  Only those items on the agenda can be voted on, especially at special call meetings.”

Neither Strickland nor Bell were present for Wednesday’s meeting.