Water Board discussion draws heat at city council meeting

Published 8:16 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Selma City Council members have thrown verbal jabs at one another over a state public examiners report.

The report appeared Saturday on the Web site of the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, www.examiners.alabama.gov. It says most members of the Selma Waterworks and Sewer Board owe money for overpaid fees.

But members of that board say the report is wrong.

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City Councilman Johnnie Leashore said Monday during the council meeting, “The report of the public auditor contained incorrect information.”

Leashore declined to say much more, saying Water Board attorney Collins Pettaway Jr. advised the members of the body not to discuss the report.

The report targeted Leashore, chairman; Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, secretary/treasurer; Lee Goodwin, a director; Councilman Sam Randolph, a director; and Mayor James Perkins Jr., who serves as superintendent.

Crenshaw didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.

Leashore read a lengthy memorandum prepared by Pettaway that traced the history of the salaries in question. Some highlights:

Jan. 9, 1989: The city council set board member salaries at $350 a month. No provisions were made for chairman or secretary or treasurer.

Oct. 18, 1999: The board authorized $800 per month for the three directors who were not the chairman and secretary/treasurer. The three directors at the time were city council members. The prior salary was $500 per month. Pettaway said he did not have minutes to show when the salary was set. Pay records seem to indicate the $500 salary became effective in January 1991.

May 2000: Chairman’s salary raises to $2,125 per month; secretary/treasurer’s salary raises to $1,625 per month.

Board minutes do not reflect a vote, but William K. Hicks participated in the employees group health insurance plan in 1999.

2002: City council becomes aware of the pay, debates it, but didn’t approve the salaries.

Aug. 14, 2006: City council approves $800 salary for Aubrey Vick after his appointment.

The memorandum differs from the examiner’s report, which says on Dec. 12, 2005, council minutes indicated an unspecified amount of time the board members salaries were set at $800 a month with additional pay for secretary/treasurer and chairman.

The examiners report also states in 2007 the council discussed changing the chairman’s salary from $25,000 a year to $900.

Pettaway’s memorandum pointed out previous directors who had earned similar salaries before the present board members took their positions. He posited those previous directors, some who are white, also would owe back wages.

Pettaway had already said the report targeted only black members of the board.

Not so, said Councilman Cecil Williamson.

“The statue of limitations is only four years,” he said. “That’s why they have not done anything.”

Williamson said only Leashore, Crenshaw and Randolph would fall into the category to have to pay back wages.

Leashore shot back to Williamson, “You have shown your racist, bigoted head. You are at the head of this skullduggery.”

Leashore said he brought up the matter Monday night to allow the public to know the other side of the issue.

Council President George Evans said the council has nothing to do with the report. The report is in the hands of the examiner and the state Attorney General’s office, he said.

“They’re the ones who will make a ruling on what is going to come up,” Evans said. “I told you over and over again that was wrong. … We won’t take any action. We won’t make you pay nothing back.”