Future of city treasurer up in the air

Published 7:47 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Selma City Council discussed the future of City Treasurer Ronita Wade during Tuesday night’s council meeting. Wade has been on paid administrative leave since sometime last week.

Last week, Selma Mayor Darrio Melton presented a $18.7 million budget to the Selma City Council during a public hearing. When challenged on the revenue projections by city council members, Melton said the treasurer provided the numbers to his office.

Wade said the information she provided was a “draft of drafts” and that she would never approve a budget with that much revenue. She instead presented a $17.6 million budget she created.

Melton said he was surprised by the move and state law requires the mayor to present a budget to the council. The mayor said the treasurer didn’t have the authority to draft a budget any more than any other department head.

Wade evidently hasn’t returned to work since that hearing.

Councilman Sam Randolph asked Melton when he was going to notify the council if Wade had been terminated.

“No one has been terminated, so I don’t know where you are getting your information from,” Melton said. “We are still weighing the decision.”

City Attorney Jimmy Nunn said state law requires the mayor to alert the council at its next regular meeting if any disciplinary action is ever taken against an official appointed by the council.

In Selma and most Alabama cities, the city council appoints both the treasurer and city clerk. Nunn said at this point though no disciplinary action has been taken against Wade.

The attorney said disciplinary action would include termination, suspensions and demotions but not a paid administrative leave.

“We can’t report it today because he hasn’t taken any action,” Nunn said. “Disciplinary action is when you are losing your property rights, something is being taken away from you. … Just placing something in a file or a warning — I think there is some case law that that doesn’t rise to the level of bringing before the council.”

Some council members took exception with Wade being put on paid leave.

“You are going to get rid of her just because she is right and you are wrong? Just because she stood up to you? That doesn’t make sense,” Randolph said.

Randolph also questioned the timing, putting the treasurer on leave when the city has yet to approve a 2018 budget.

“Why would we lose that good talent sitting at the house watching ‘Young and the Restless’ and ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘Steve Harvey’ — that’s a waste of our money,” Randolph said.

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin agreed with Randolph about sending Wade home being a waste of money.

“What we have here now is a paid employee at the house that we could get a lot of work with,” Benjamin said.

Melton said it was premature for the council even to be having the discussion that was taking place considering no formal disciplinary action has been taken against Wade. Nunn said a pre-disciplinary hearing was held last week with the city’s human resources department.

“We haven’t made a decision, and I think it’s premature for the council to even have this discussion when a decision hasn’t been made by the mayor,” Melton said.

Should any disciplinary action be taken against Wade, the mayor would have to bring that decision before the council, and a hearing would have to take place, according to the city attorney.

“The council has the appointment so it would come back to you [the council],” Nunn said.

Some council members also wanted to know why Wade was put on paid leave and how long she and the city financial department would be in limbo.

“I think the council people have a right to know. We don’t know how long she’s going to be hanging out there or when she’s coming back,” said Councilwoman Jannie Thomas.

Nunn repeated that at this point no disciplinary action has been taken against Wade, and should any disciplinary action be taken, the mayor would have to outline the causes for that in a public hearing.

“The mayor at that time has to report that to this governing body [the city council]. He can’t get around that,” Nunn said. “Then, the city council will schedule a hearing to hear the facts, the reasons why the mayor disciplined this employee. She will come before the city council and make her argument as to why she feels like the disciplinary action was taken against her wrongfully.”

The city council would then decide to uphold the mayor’s disciplinary action or overturn it.

“If the mayor does not receive five votes, then she comes back to work,” Nunn said. “If she comes back, everything should remain the same. The council will have the last word. You are the appointing authority.”

If the council sustains the decision, then the mayor could appoint someone temporarily, but the council would have the authority to approve a permanent replacement, according to Nunn.

Councilman Johnnie Leashore asked if the process could become circular.

“If the mayor recommends termination and the council doesn’t sustain it, next week the mayor could start the process all over again with good cause,” Leashore said.

Nunn agreed the mayor could theoretically start the process again with good cause.

Randolph asked the attorney if the city council could go ahead and approve something allowing Wade to return to work. Nunn said a vote like that would be premature since no disciplinary action has been taken against the treasurer.

“You can’t make a motion when she has never left,” Nunn said.

Randolph then asked how many people on the council supported Wade and asked members to raise their hands if they backed the treasurer. The Times-Journal wasn’t able to confirm who raised their hands but at least five council members did, including Council President Corey Bowie.

Wade declined to comment Friday but said she might be willing to talk about the situation in the future.

CORRECTION: The discussion on Wade’s leave took place during Tuesday’s council meeting, not last Thursday’s work session.