Ruling says city council violated due process rights

Published 9:40 pm Thursday, October 31, 2013

According to a federal court ruling Thursday, the Selma City Council violated the constitutional rights of KTK Mining, when it suspended the company’s building permit on a monument to Confederate general and former Klu Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest in Old Life Oak Cemetery.

U.S. District Judge Kristi Dubose granted KTK Mining’s motion for summary judgment, finding the city violated the constitutional right to due process.

Dubose said the council legally issued KTK’s building permit but failed to give adequate notice.

“The undisputed evidence shows that the issue was raised for the first time at the September 25, 2012 council meeting,” Dubose wrote in the decision. “The issue was not included on the advance agenda for the meeting; and that KTK was not otherwise notified that such an issue would be raised.”

The permit suspension came after city council members raised questions about who owned Confederate Circle, a tract of land containing the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in Old Live Oak Cemetery.

The decision doesn’t mean an end to the lawsuit but is a substantial victory, KTK mining’s attorney John Kelly III said.

“This ruling is a huge factor for KTK,” Kelly said. “Nobody can take away from KTK that the Selma City Council acted unlawfully. KTK is at least entitled to damages and the right to resume work.”

He declined to speculate on how much the city could be forced to pay if Dubose decides to award damages to KTK mining.

“The damages are always left to the court and the jury, even the attorney’s fees,” he said. “There is usually a difference in what you ask for and what you actually receive.”

In a letter sent to Rick Howard, the attorney representing the city, on Oct. 22, KTK and Kelly asked for approximately $500,000 in various damages. Those amounts could be covered by the city’s insurance.

Numerous calls to city officials went unreturned Thursday evening after the decision.

The judge will likely issue further orders on other issues in the case, Kelly said. The judge could set a hearing date or wait until the trial, set for the first week in February.

The monument was originally unveiled in 2000 at the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum. It was moved to the cemetery after the monument was vandalized and defaced.

In March 2012, the monument’s bronze bust was stolen, leading to the group Friends of Forrest developing plans for a relocation of the monument.

Protests began again around the monument months after construction began to replace the bust and construct a more secure display. Shortly after the protests began, city council members raised the question of ownership of Confederate Circle and suspended the permit.

The city council will meet at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss the lawsuit. A settlement conference has also been scheduled for Nov. 8.