County wins E-911 tower case

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 25, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

It’s over. The tower is here to stay.

Circuit Judge Jack Meigs ruled in favor of Dallas County government officials regarding the construction of a 120-foot E-911 communications tower at the county courthouse on Monday. The official court document was filed Wednesday by Circuit Clerk Cheryl Strong and delivered to involved parties Thursday morning.

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Funded by a $75,000 grant provided by the Alabama State Department of Homeland Security, the tower will “allow all emergency responders within Dallas County to communicate with each other over existing radio frequencies.”

In May, the City of Selma filed a lawsuit against Dallas County. Because the tower is within Selma city limits, city attorneys argued that the county did not clear the tower’s construction with appropriate officials and violated two city ordinances.

“Dallas County did not apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness with the Selma Historic District Commission or for a special use permit under the wireless telecommunications ordinance (hereinafter referred to as Tower Ordinance),” the court document states.

County officials have long argued the tower is a “win-win” situation for Selma and Dallas County.

“The tower has been erected for use by the City of Selma police, fire and for the benefit of the citizens,” said Probate Judge Johnny Jones in a previous report.

The court based its ruling on the case of Lane v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Talladega, which states “Alabama law is well settled that city zoning ordinances do not apply to the operation of a governmental function by a governing body, as opposed to a proprietary function … A function is a governmental function if it is the means by which the governing entity exercises the sovereign power for the benefit of all citizens.”

County attorney John Kelly delivered copies of the court ruling to Jones and county commissioners Thursday morning.

“Judge Jones was quite happy to receive the ruling,” Kelly said. “It is as we expected.”

“We’re very pleased by the order and I think it simply reaffirms the county’s position that this was an action undertaken by the county in the public’s interest and that it was a governmental function and the court agreed with us.”

On Thursday afternoon, employees with ALLCOMM Wireless, Inc. were busy at work on the tower. Kelly said the workers’ presence immediately following the ruling was “purely coincidental.” ALLCOMM was previously scheduled to work on the tower Thursday.

“The county is under contract with ALLCOMM to put the antennas on the tower and to basically connect the tower with the broadcast system,” he said.

Kelly said the county has spent $17,000 to $18,000 in legal fees. The county’s insurance carrier paid a substantial portion of Kelly’s legal fee.

However, “a portion of my fee was incurred before the city’s lawsuit was filed and that was about $3,500,” Kelly said.

The county also hired Garry Thompson to assist Kelly and represent the tower workers in Selma Municipal Court, a cost of roughly $6,000.

Attorney Henry Pitts was hired to represent county officials in municipal court “when there were threats of them being arrested,” Kelly said. Pitts’ fee “was somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000.”

“That’s not all the legal fees, but that’s the part the county has incurred thus far,” Kelly said.

City attorney Jimmy Nunn was unavailable for comment Thursday due to a death in the family. However, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said he wants to enlist another court’s opinion.

“We anticipated what has happened,” Perkins said.

“We have already filed the appeal. The whole idea was to get this case out of Selma and Dallas County so that we could get the politics out of the decision and make the determination.”

“We knew regardless of which direction it went, it was going to be appealed because this is a decision that needs to me made at the state level.”