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Mayor moves to undo council contracts

The Selma City Council has for months been approving contracts for a variety of services, everything from landscaping work to administrative duties, which have been signed off on by Selma City Council President Corey Bowie.

Bowie was empowered to sign off on the contracts through an ordinance approved by the council in September 2018 after months of obstruction from Selma Mayor Darrio Melton, who refused to sign off on contracts, work orders and other requests.

“Due to the [November 2018] layoffs, it was critical that the council continue to provide services to the citizens,” Bowie said. “The only way for us to do that was to contract services.”

The mayor initially vetoed the ordinance, but the council came back and overrode his veto in order for the ordinance to take effect.

However, with the release of the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts report on the City of Selma, which found among other discrepancies that the city is out of step with state statutes by having the council president sign off on contracts rather than the mayor, all of those contracts could soon be “null and void.”

Following public release of the report Friday, Selma City Attorney Major Madison addressed a letter to Melton urging him to pass along the findings of the report to “all levels of city government” and include the fact that contracts “not properly executed be considered null and void.”

In his letter to the mayor, Madison notes that the report states that “the mayor shall execute all contracts on behalf of the city” per Code of Alabama 1975, as well as the fact that examiners asserted that the council-approved ordinance empowering the council president to sign off on contracts “appears to contradict state law.”

That same day, Melton addressed a letter to all city employees asserting much the same thing – the first paragraph in the brief letter reiterates the report’s findings, while the second lays out the mayor’s allegations against the council.

Melton stated that “several contracts” were improperly executed by the council after passage of the ordinance allowing Bowie to sign off on contracts and said that “such contracts should be null and void.”

“A contract must be executed by the proper municipal official in order to be valid,” Melton’s letter stated. “Any employee who continues to participate in and/or proceeds to execute any and all illegal contracts will be held personally and legally for any infractions and/or violations.”

For his part, Selma City Councilman Sam Randolph noted that such a move would leave a bevy of workers and companies without compensation for work that’s already been completed in the city.

Bowie agreed.

“The impact of that would be that contractors might have to pay back the money we’ve paid them,” Bowie said. “That’s going to be a mess. That’s going to be another debacle we don’t need to get into.”

Additionally, Randolph noted that the Selma Police Department (SPD) would feel the sting if these contracts were rendered invalid – the council recently approved two contracts for the department, one that would bring former SPD Chief Robert Green back on as an advisor for three months and another that would return an officer to the department to conduct firearm training and serve as range master.

Additionally, Carneetie Ellision, who recently began working under contract as an administrative assistant for the council, could be on the chopping block.

Ellison has a long list of complaints against Melton’s administration dating back to before her layoff in November 2018 and she sees the recent move to invalidate a wide array of city contracts, including the one that keeps her employed, as little more than a continuation of the same tactics.

“This is nothing but targeting and retaliation,” Ellison said, noting that she has already been denied a paycheck for the last two weeks of work.

Additionally, Ellison questions whether the examiners’ assertion that contracts not signed by the mayor are illegal – when former Selma City Attorney Jimmy Nunn drafted the ordinance giving Bowie the power to execute contracts, he shared a 2001 Alabama Attorney General’s opinion that includes a reference to a clause in the state code that allows for someone other than the mayor to execute contracts.

The examiners’ report continually asserts that the city was out of compliance with Code of Alabama 1975 Section 11-43-83, but the 2001 attorney general’s opinion references Code of Alabama 1992 Section 11-47-5, which states that an ordinance may direct someone other than the mayor to execute contracts

“Because Section 11-43-83 does not state that the mayor shall be the only officer allowed to execute contracts and deeds on behalf of the city, and because Section 11-47-5 provides than an ordinance may direct someone other than the mayor to execute a contract on behalf of the city, the two statutes can be read together to provide that a city ordinance may direct someone other than the mayor to execute deeds and contracts on behalf of the city,” the opinion stated.

“The bottom line is we provided services to the citizens who pay taxes,” Bowie said. “They are entitled to those services. It would be a dereliction of duty on the council’s part if we didn’t do it.”