Selma City Council should own up to holding unlawful executive session and offer an apology

Published 6:49pm Saturday, June 15, 2013

During Tuesday’s Selma City Council meeting, an executive session was called ostensibly to discuss what Council President Corey Bowie called the “good name and character” of Selma Police Chief William Riley. But it appears more than that was discussed, evidenced by Selma Mayor George Evans’ comments after the meeting.

“We discussed a lot of the department heads in terms of name and character that needed to be put on the table, and we talked about their job performances and their failure to do their jobs and maybe not almost their failure, but also anything they do right, too,” Evans said. “So it got into a real discussion about their name … whether or not they are doing their job, or whether or not they are lazy — if that be the word, or whether we are getting our money’s worth.”

The Alabama Open Meetings Act of 2005 clearly defines the difference between what is considered good name and character and discussion of job performance. The Act defines general reputation and character as “characteristics or actions of a person directly involving good or bad ethical conduct, moral turpitude, or suspected criminal activity, not including job performance,” while job performance is defined as “The observed conduct or actions of a public employee or public official while on the job in furtherance of his or her assigned duties. This includes whether a person is meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet job requirements or whether formal employment actions should be taken by the governmental body.”

Clearly the council’s intentions when they called for an executive session was to discuss Riley’s job performance, as evidenced by Councilman Greg Bjelke comment before the executive session that the city “was not getting its money’s worth” from Riley.

It’s clear to us, as it should be to all citizens of Selma that some council members don’t think Riley is doing his job well enough to keep it. If that’s the case, then they need to tell the residents whom they report to why, and do it in a public forum instead of hiding behind closed doors, and breaking the law in the process.

When city officials are elected, they are required to adhere to the Alabama Ethics Law, actually it’s stipulated they receive training on ethics within 120 days of being elected. Apparently some on the city council didn’t listen very well during training, or simply chose to put their ethics aside when they closed the door to the public and debated Riley’s job performance in secret.

It’s also possible the council did not fully understand the Open Meetings Act and felt just saying a discussion of “good name and character” would cover their collective tails. If that’s the case, where was Jimmy Nunn, the council’s attorney, while this was going on? If anyone should know chapter and verse of the law as it relates to executive sessions, it should be him.

But he rubber-stamped the meeting, and then it appears he allowed Riley’s job performance to be discussed in private as evidenced by Evans’ comments after the meeting. When asked for comment on whether an illegal meeting had been held, he said, “There wasn’t any violation that was done.”

While we’re not prepared to say anyone was lying, we’ll let the facts speak for themselves. It’s clear to us, as it should be the residents of Selma, the council failed in the most basic tenant of ethics and they need to collectively “come clean” and say they violated the law.

If they fall short of admitting they broke the law, at the very least they never need to let this happen again, because if they do the residents of Selma might ask whether they’re getting their money’s worth or not from this council.

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