Water board on the hot seat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

At the beginning of Tuesday’s City Council meeting the issue of the Water Board wasn’t even on the agenda. However, a procedural move in the meeting’s first few minutes by Councilman Samuel L. Randolph changed that.

As the meeting was about to wind down, Randolph, who had been silent most of the night, made his feelings on the board’s current legal problems known.

The state Ethics Commission recently referred a complaint about the compensation of board members to the state attorney general for review and possible prosecution.

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Randolph, who is himself a member of the board, alleged Tuesday that the board has consistently misused the city’s money, declaring, &uot;We should abolish the whole Water Board.&uot;

Randolph said he had to visit the ethics commission himself to discover what board members were being paid.

Tensions started to simmer and then boil as council members began to fire accusations back and forth.

Randolph asked if the City Council had ever ratified the board’s current salaries. After some disagreement among themselves, council members acknowledged that the council has never officially changed a 1989 action setting the salaries of board members at $350 a month.

During a September session of the council, Councilwoman Rita Sims Franklin introduced a resolution calling for board members to continue receiving their current salaries, which range from $800 a month to $2,125 a month. The council tabled the resolution.

The legality of those higher salaries was the focus of the ethics commission probe.

Asked about her testimony before the ethics commission concerning the water board, Franklin said, “I can’t say anything I told to the ethics commission by their request.”

“I wish you’d use that same ethic with this council,” snapped Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw.

It appeared that things were going to calm down until local resident Lee Goodwin made a statement to the council concerning the board during the period set aside for comments from the public.

Goodwin cited a number of what he termed &uot;questionable&uot; decisions by the board stretching back over the last two years. According to Goodwin, those decisions include the hiring of an $18,000-a-year consultant, raising rates without adequate public input, raising the salary of an employee by $10,000 while the system was supposedly short of cash, and illegally hiring and paying a man $35,000 for no services rendered.

“Should Selma’s citizens be asked to pay for the Water Board’s misdeeds?” he asked.

Goodwin called for three members of the board &045; chairman William Hicks, secretary-treasurer Marvin Melton and Councilman Glenn Sexton — to resign immediately.

Council President George Evans remained skeptical, however. He suggested that the council retire to a executive session to determine the validity of Goodwin’s and others’ statements about the board.

Councilman B.L. Tucker, who is also a member of the board, objected to the idea of a executive session.

He stated that everything that was being discussed was the people’s business and that it should remain in the open.

“I won’t even go in there!” he declared, referring to the executive session.

Shortly afterwards, Tucker rose from his seat and left the council chambers.

After Goodwin’s plea to the council, Evans brought the motion of moving to a executive session to the floor.

It was quickly passed and the council chambers were cleared.

In other business, the council: