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57 misdemeanor pot cases tossed by Melton

With only weeks left before he leaves office, Mayor Darrio Melton has issued a pardon for more than 50 misdemeanor marijuana offenders in the city, according to Selma City Attorney Major Madison, who informed the Selma City Council of the mayor’s decision during an afternoon meeting Tuesday following the certification of the Oct. 6 runoff results.

A letter addressed to the council and signed by Melton noted that mayoral powers, as defined in the Code of Alabama 1975, allow for a mayor to grant pardons and remit fines imposed by a municipal court.

In the letter, Melton stated that his decision to grant “a full pardon to individuals who were convicted in cases of misdemeanor marijuana possession in the Municipal Court of Selma,” which does not allow for the remitting of fines or costs, was made “in the spirit of tempering justice with mercy.”

The two-page list of names includes each individual’s charge and the date it was adjudicated – the majority of cases listed were for possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia charges, with only one listed for promoting prison contraband; the cases range in date from Nov. 1, 2016, through Oct. 8, 2020.

For her part, Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson, who also serves as Executive Director of Dallas County Court Services, praised the move.

“The men and women Mayor Melton recently pardoned for their misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia charges have been given a second chance, an opportunity to change their life’s direction,” Jackson said after the meeting. “I applaud the mayor’s use of his pardon authority in these non-violent, substance-related cases, as people in recovery often benefit from second chances.”

Jackson expressed her hope that the municipal judicial system with “explore progressive evidence-based interventions” moving forward, which would provide those who complete their educational and treatment programs to be afforded the same outcome with the benefit of counseling and drug education services to reduce the likelihood that they will return to the justice system.

Though Selma Police Department (SPD) Chief Kenta Fulford could not be reached for comment, Dallas County Sheriff Mike Granthum opposed the move.

“I don’t agree with the pardons,” Granthum said. “Marijuana use is against the law. As long as it’s against the law, the Dallas County Sherriff’s Office will enforce it. Drug use affects families and ruins lives.”

Elsewhere in the meeting, the council approved a packed consent agenda, which included an array of expenditures on various public works projects, another round of hazard pay and more.

The council, having previously provided city employees with a bonus in June, approved another $1,800 hazard pay bonus for all public safety employees – the men and women of the Selma Police Department (SPD) and the Selma Fire Department (SFD) – for a total of $133,127.28 to be reimbursed with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money.

Additionally, the council approved another $1,800 bonus for all other city employees, a total of just over $189,600, to be pulled from the money reserved for COVID-19 relief in the city’s General Fund.

Only Jackson voted against the measure, expressing concern that the city’s General Fund was ill-suited to spend such money, particularly as a second round of federal relief for municipalities has yet to arrive.

Selma City Councilman Carl Bowline passed on the consent agenda vote, while all other council members voted in the affirmative.

The council also approved two contracts each with Snow’s Cleaning Service and Smitherman Construction Company, though the agenda provides little details as to the nature of the work – the two contracts with Snow’s Cleaning Service totaled $15,000, one for $4,000 and another for $11,000, while the two contracts with Smitherman Construction Company totaled $28,000, one for $19,500 and another for $8,500, to be pulled from oil lease accounts.

The council also approved a $1,000 contract with Chaser Lawn Service for work at Lorenzo Harrison Cemetery and a $2,000 contract with Middleton Farm for the removal of tree limbs and debris, as well as $409 for the payment of “an old invoice.”

The council added a handful of additional items to the consent agenda at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, at least two of which were for work patching sidewalks and potholes in Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas’ Ward 7 and another for continued work along Broad Street.

The council also discussed a request from Selma High School officials to hold football playoffs at Memorial Stadium – Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams was slated to attend the next council meeting to plead the school’s case, but Selma City Councilman John Leashore noted that the city already has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the school board regarding the high school’s use of the stadium and there should be no need for Williams to appear before the council.

“I think we should go on the record as supporting school athletics,” Leashore said. “I don’t think we should have to have the superintendent come and as us to do something we’ve done before.”

The council agreed and reaffirmed the MOU, with everyone voting in favor except for Selma City Councilwoman Susan Youngblood, who abstained, and Selma City Councilwoman Angela Benjamin, who voted no and stated that she was uncomfortable making decisions regarding children in the midst of a global pandemic.