Selma Water Board rapidly becoming a battleground

Published 12:42 am Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Selma Water Board seems like a probable battleground with a more public focus than usual, even extending into the council chambers at City Hall.

On Tuesday, Velma Brewer appeared before the Selma City Council to complain about city officials’ conduct outside of the council chambers in City Hall. Her point amounted to a complaint against Dr. Geraldine Allen, president of the city council and a member of the water board.

Additionally, the issue of the water board’s consideration of treating sewage from Overlook Hills in Valley Grande and the city’s payment of Allen’s legal expenses related to her water board seat also drew fire.

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Allen hasn’t served on the water board long, although she was appointed during the last administration to replace Samuel Randolph, another council member whose term had expired. During the vote, Allen voted for herself and Randolph didn’t. Allen won. But members of the water board, a majority of which did not want Allen on that body, filed a lawsuit challenging her seat because she voted for herself.

The lawsuit winded its way through the courts for nearly two years. Neither Allen nor Randolph were allowed to participate as members of the water board. When the administrations changed late last year, a majority of the city council voted to place Allen on the water board.

At least two members of the board, Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, a councilwoman, and Millie Vick would not attend meetings in which Allen participated. Vick said a court order prohibited Allen from taking part in any meetings. She and Crenshaw were abiding by the court order, Vick explained.

About a month ago, the water board reached a settlement with Allen and Randolph, which allowed Allen to take her seat on the water board. Randolph received $3,000 compensation.

But the battles didn’t end there, either. Crenshaw refused to sign minutes as secretary that contained votes by Allen prior to the court order. A majority of the water board voted Crenshaw off as secretary and treasurer.

Brewer attended that particular meeting. She said she wanted to ask a question about a problem in Ward 4. During the last administration, Allen represented Ward 4. Now, Angela Benjamin represents Ward 4.

Brewer addressed a statement to Allen Tuesday, “Your statement to me was hostile and you told me I could not talk to you at the water board unless my city council person was present. That statement was very offensive to me, and all I want to talk to you was in regards to a problem as a citizen in District 4, where we had problems before. What was more offensive to me was your body language. You seem to be just non-approachable.”

Brewer also told Allen, “Three years is not that far away. … if you continue to act the way you act, I will not stop until I have knocked on every door to have you upset.”

Allen answered the criticism, saying Brewer initiated the conversation at the water board, asking Allen if she would attend a meeting concerning sewage.

“As I stated,” Allen said, “and I will reiterate what I stated to you that day that I will attend any meeting that you or any other group you have with the acknowledgement of your council person for the ward, which happens to be for both of us, our councilperson, Miss Benjamin.”

In addition, Allen said she attended a ward meeting held by Benjamin during which questions were referred to the end of the meeting, and Brewer didn’t bring up the sewage issue then.

Again, at the city council meeting Tuesday, another person brought up a water board issue. Edward Shaw, of West Side Empowerment, asked the three voting members of the council who serve on the water board — Allen, Crenshaw and the Rev. B.L. Tucker — to vote no on extending sewage treatment to Overlook Hills in Valley Grande. The issue came up about two months ago when W.F. Cosby Jr., who is the owner of Overlook Hills Water and Sewer, asked the water board to take the sewage for the 92 residences in the subdivision of Alabama Highway 22. A majority of the water board agreed to look into the venture.

Crenshaw has opposed the move, saying the water board should take care of Selma’s residents. Tucker has said he’s for the venture because he wants to help out the neighbors. Allen has not publicly voiced an opinion either way.

During the business portion of the city council meeting, Crenshaw once again brought up the issue of the council paying legal fees for Randolph. A majority of the council had voted to pay Allen’s legal fees of $12,000, but voted not to pay Randolph’s legal fees in the court battle to return to the water board.

Crenshaw pointed out the three-pronged test used by the Alabama Supreme Court to determine if a city could employ attorneys to render services for city employees or council members. The three parts are: if the issue is a matter of proper corporate interest including to defend suits against the corporation; defense of sits against the municipal officers; while in honest discharge of their duties.

“Here, to me the larger question of this three-part test is whether any of us can say that by Dr. Allen voting for herself, that she was acting in honest and good faith on behalf of the municipality in the line and scope of her duties and the duty was discharged in good faith when she voted for herself on the water board,” Crenshaw said. “I cannot honestly say that she did. It seems that we would be much more in line with the test in paying Mr. Randolph’s fees than Dr. Allen’s. After all, he was the legal person to be on the board and was the one to prevail in the injunction that was filed.”

Crenshaw argued that it is not fair for the city to pay the legal fees of one council member and not those of the other because both were sued at the same time.

Crenshaw brought the issue up for a vote. The legal fees totaled $3,000. Council member Susan Keith supported the move saying she and some other council members weren’t on board when this occurred, but, “Councilman Randolph has presented his legal bills, vis-a-vis, Mrs. Crenshaw. I told Councilman Randolph, ‘if you present your legal fees and I will motion for it to be passed.’”

Allen said the statement related to her made by Crenshaw was out of order and the other portions of Crenshaw’s statements were “her opinion.”

Benjamin said people in Ward 4, which she represents on the council, were equally divided for and against paying for Randolph’s legal fees. Benjamin reminded the council when the issue came up initially, “he said he didn’t want anything from the council at all.”

Benjamin wanted to know where the council stood legally as far as paying Randolph’s bill.

City attorney Jimmy Nunn said the water board agreement through which Randolph received $3,000 as part of a settlement is separate from any action the city might take. “If the city council wants to take further action regarding the water board, it can do that. Nothing is prohibiting it from taking any other action as it relates to the water board; as it relates to the attorney’s fees.”

Council member the Rev. Dr. Cecil Williamson said he believed the $3,000 portion of the settlement was to pay legal fees. Randolph denied that.