Dogs, elections dominate meeting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Vicious dogs and more election talked dominated the night as Selma City Council met Monday evening in council chambers.

Mayoral candidate Gene Hisel addressed the council and criticized the council for their failure to act on the absentee ballot issue.

“I have seen nothing, after thousands of words have been thrown around, to rectify the problem,” Hisel said. “It is the council’s responsibility to take measures tonight to make sure there are no more questions.

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Please do that tonight, we only have two weeks from tomorrow (until the election).”

Hisel also pointed out that on Monday-Thursday, three people go to get the absentee ballots.

On Friday, because one of the three is off, only two go.

Hisel asked if security is less important on Fridays.

Hisel also asked about the controversy last week involving allegations of coercion (See “Absentee ballots discussed in forum,” page 1A.).

“Have we compromised our entire box of absentee ballots?” Hisel asked. “I can assure you that there are people out there watching us.

You can be sure there will be a challenged election. The picture of possible impropriety has already been painted.”

Hisel said he feels it would be too costly to put off the election.

Hisel’s comments drew little initial response from the council, who had absentee ballots scheduled for later in the agenda.

They did discuss them at length at that time.

Council President George Evans had sent a letter to Mayor James Perkins Jr., the council members and City Election Manger Lois Williams, inviting ideas that could alleviate some of the perception of trouble in the absentee ballot box.

Evans suggested the council members allow candidates to submit names and the council vote on two people from the outside who would be paid to sit in the election office and observe the absentee voting process.

They would be paid simply to monitor.

“I’m open to getting feedback from you as council members,” Evans said. “There’s something we need to discuss in terms of if what we’re doing is adequate.”

Williams, who spoke with League of Municipalities attorney Ken Smith, said she had a few problems with Evans’ idea.

One is space, the office is already crowded, she said. Two, she said, she didn’t think it would be a good idea to pay someone to essentially sit in the office for eight hours and do nothing but watch. Also, Smith said anyone hired would become city employees and would have to go through the same posting process as other employees.

Councilwoman Nancy Sewell said something should be done to reassure the public.

“Given the situation that many in the public feel there is an appearance of improprieties, the council would like to go beyond the call of duty make sure the process is above reproach,” she said. “City council members (would be) included in the lawsuit, we have to look out for ourselves. We have nothing to lose to try and put measures in place.”

Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw didn’t agree.

She said she felt Williams and the staff are doing enough to protect the process.

“I just don’t see the need,” she said. “I really don’t believe in making mandates on a person that is in charge of something.

Ms Williams is our absentee ballot manager, I need her to say that she needs someone in there, but to go over her head and make a decision in her office is totally unfair.”

Evans became visibly frustrated with the tone of the meeting.

“All this is politics,” he said. “We had a perception of a problem, I took the liberty to write a suggested letter to everyone. I think I have the right to write a letter and ask us to consider something.”

Evans then read portions of his letter into the record.

“I would like for us as a council to work together to come up with a procedure to ensure credibility,” he said. “I would appreciate your suggestions and help in this process.”

After Evans read from his letter, Williams read a response in which she outlined some of the safeguards already in place. She talked about: setting up a designated secure area for voters who come in and fill out their ballots on site, guidelines and instructions posted in the absentee office, a list of voters that have applied for absentee ballots is available to the public, sample ballots are available, the ballot box is locked at all times and several other steps.

“My staff and I are doing everything possible to make sure the absentee process is fair,” Williams said.

In the end, the council made no changes or further recommendations in the process.

In other business, the council:

Heard from Patricia Peterson about vicious and flea infested dogs living next to her day care center.

“This is my second time appearing before you all about vicious dogs,” she said. “You all are just talking and not doing anything about it. I’d hate it if I get bit or my kids get bit.”

The council members had previously asked the police department to investigate the dogs.

“I can’t take my kids out,” Peterson said.

The council promised to have animal control officers as well as an environmental officer investigate the site.

Heard from Roosevelt Johnson promotion director of WBFZ and WBFG Radio.

The stations hope to sponsor a unity event on Labor Day weekend involving several musical acts as well as vendors and a record-deal contest.

“Thirty artists have committed to coming to this event,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to have a lot of different artists from different areas.

This is a multi-cultural event.”

Johnson, who has already secured sponsorship from Pinebelt Wireless, asked the City Council to use Riverside Park, however the council members felt Bloch Park might be a more appropriate venue. They asked Johnson to provide them with some more details including plans for security and they consider it further.

“It sounds good,” Crenshaw said. “I would have to see the mechanics of it.

We need to look at security.”

Heard from Elizabeth Driggers on the Weed and Seed Sewer project.

She asked the council to approve the low bid for $475,000 worth of sewer work in the city and approve the contract signed by Mayor James Perkins Jr, for that low bid. Both resolutions passed unanimously.

Heard from Fire Department Chief Henry Allen on the need for a new training building.

Previously, the department had trained in the old All-Lock building, but since that has been leased to Meadowcraft, the department needs a new place to train and house $50,000 worth of equipment.

Allen said he has an agreement to lease the old Dallas Concrete building for $200 a month.

“We really need a stable building to train,” he said. “This building will meet all the needs.”

The council voted unanimously to accept Allen’s plan.

Approved two resolutions for new equipment, the first for $7,800 to purchase a bug sprayer and the second for $2,500 for a water tank trailer.

Heard from city engineer David Painter updated the progress on the Animal Shelter.

“We’re ahead of schedule and it looks like we’re going to be under budget,” he said.

Heard an update from City Attorney Jimmy Nunn on the smoking ordinance.

“We do not want you to put it on first reading just yet,” he said. “The committee and I want to go over everything and make sure it is correct.

Discussed Municipal Judge Kyra Sparks’ vacated seat. Attorney April Allbright on an interim basis is currently filling the seat.

Judge Greg Tolar has been named interim presiding judge.

It is up to the council to appoint the new judges for the two-year terms.

Heard an update from Nunn on the complaint from Probate Judge Johnny Jones about lack of payment for the EMA.

Nunn said his office has replied to Jones to let him know they are working on the issue. The city paid their bill for the first three months of the year, but have not paid since December of last year.

Nunn said they know there was a contract and it was budgeted for, they just need to find out why it has not been paid.

Approved with changes, Williams’ list of poll officials to work at the various elections sites.

The complete list will be published at a later date in the Selma Times-Journal.

Heard City Treasurer Cynthia Mitchell say she has sent the financial management analysis to City Auditor Bill Long of Caston, Long and Company as well as Boreland and Benefield.

She said she has received revisions and is working on them.

Approved a resolution to move the next council meeting to Wednesday, August 25 at 10 a.m. The council will have to meet the day after the election anyway so they decided to take care of all business that morning.

Asked Mitchell to find $12,000 in the budget for emergency repairs to the fire department’s snorkel truck.