City discusses lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 13, 2004

In a specially scheduled meeting, the Selma City Council went into executive session to discuss a lawsuit brought against the city last week by First Baptist Church.

As of the start of the meeting, Selma officials had not been officially served, but they did have an copy of the lawsuit.

The council excused everyone but City Attorney Jimmy Nunn, the council members, Alabama Historic Commission member Brandon Brazil and Patty Sexton and Elizabeth Driggers of the city’s planning and development office.

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The lawsuit stems from church officials’ desire to destroy the old YMCA building on Broad to put up more space for parking.

Selma’s Historic Development Commission ruled that destruction of the building would violate the city’s historic district laws and denied the church’s request.

The church’s attorney, John Kelly III, filed the suit in federal court in Mobile, not asking for damages, just to allow the church to tear the building down.

“At this point the council is not able to make any comments,” council president George Evans said after the executive session. “There is no decision to discuss.

We’re waiting for the actual lawsuit to be served.”

“I talked to Mr. Kelly today, they are supposed to be serving the mayor within the next 30 minutes,” Nunn said. ”

Two of the council members, Rita Sims Franklin and Glenn Sexton, are church members as well. Franklin, who requested the meeting stay in open session, said she has been going to the church all her life.

Both Driggers and P. Sexton are also members as well as city employees and were allowed to stay in the meeting.

“We also are members of First Baptist and they know they are basically suing my office,” Driggers said. “We administer the historic commission.”

The church contends that the building is unsafe.

“The building is unsightly, decrepit, it is infested with termites and it is unsafe,” Kelly said last week. “The church has no us for it.

They have a serious need for parking.”

Elton Ralston, who was appointed last year to the church’s committee to decide what to do with the building, said he believes the church’s position is strong.

“We just think that the Historic Commission Act just leaves a lot of unanswered constitutional questions, and that’s the basis for this lawsuit,” he said. “We didn’t come to (the decision to sue) lightly, but this issue has been addressed on a state level and a national level.

There is a national federal act that says the burden of proof is on the governmental agency.”

The Selma Historical Society has been outspoken against the destruction of the building.

The YMCA building was built around 1887. It’s designed in the Second Empire style and once featured a central, Mansard-roofed tower and two smaller towers on each side. However, it has fallen into a state of complete disrepair.

“Yeah, the building’s in bad shape but that’s no excuse for losing something valuable,” society member Tim Bjelke said. “The St. James was in terrible shape and the whole community pulled together and saved it.”