White Hall gov't hits "gridlock," mayor sues council members

White Hall gov't hits "gridlock," mayor sues council members
White Hall Mayor James Walker (Source: WSFA 12 News)
White Hall Mayor James Walker (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

WHITE HALL, AL (WSFA) - Tensions between the mayor and city council members in White Hall have brought town business to a standstill.

Some are calling the government dysfunctional and now, the mayor has taken legal action.

For the past few months White Hall leaders have disagreed on a number of issues.

On February 5, 2016, Mayor James Walker filed a civil suit in Lowndes County Circuit Court against members of the council, including Ceodis Baker, Joyce Barnfield, Glenn Mallard, Ruby Rudolph and Eli Seaborn.

"There have been several council meetings that have been held after the regular council meeting. We'll be asking the court to determine whether that's legal or not. We'll be asking the court to determine whether the council can hire and fire city employees," said Walker's attorney, Arlene Richardson. "And they've refused to pay some of the employees. We'll be asking the court to make a determination on that also. The town's business is really in gridlock at this point."

According to the lawsuit, on November 5, 2015, after the mayor adjourned the meeting the council meeting, Baker, Barnfield, Rudolph and Seaborn conducted an illegal meeting and voted to accept the resignation of Glenn Mallard and on December 8, 2015, they conducted another illegal meeting after the regular meeting was adjourned by the mayor.

The lawsuit also states that on December 9, 2015, the council members held a special meeting and voted to appoint Mallard's replacement, dismissed all members of the Water Board as well as the town's attorney and clerk and appointed a new clerk. The mayor says paychecks for the former clerk (who he says was illegally terminated) and town attorney, along with the water board auditor and janitor have not been signed.

It also indicates that on January 7, 2016, the council held an illegal meeting after the mayor adjourned the regular meeting and a resolution was passed to open a special account for water and sewer revenues.

We spoke to members of the White Hall council and they feel there are "serious problems" in their town. They say they've tried to sit down and work all of the issues out, but so far that hasn't happened.

According to council members, the mayor walked out of four meetings and they simply continued working after he left since they had a quorum.

Baker, Barnfield, Mallard, Rudolph and Seaborn have hired Prince Chestnut, a Selma attorney who has experience representing local government entities, to represent their interests.

Chestnut says the mayor cannot dismiss a meeting without following parliamentary procedure.

"I will also ask that certain actions be taken to get the city operational again," he said. "It will take a judge to issue an order laying out the rights of the mayor and council as it relates to these issues to bring about a needed reconstruction of city government."

Chestnut indicated that once he had time to look at the complaint and discuss things with his clients, he would reach out to opposing counsel in an effort to resolve things without running up legal fees so that White Hall residents "don't suffer" further.

"Government is supposed to work for the people and the citizens are the ones being hurt here," he added.

Mayor Walker and his attorney have asked the court for expedited treatment of the case. Richardson hopes it can be resolved in 60 days.

"They have their reasons and they believe what they're doing is right. The mayor has his reasons and he believes that what he's doing is right so we'll ask a court to sort everything out so that hopefully the city can get back on track and they have council meetings where they can conduct regular business again," she said.

Lowndes County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer says she's been contacted by the mayor and council members about the situation. She has spoken to the Attorney General's Office and tells us that the proper authorities are looking into the matter.

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