Council votes to reinstate Wade as city treasurer

Published 10:10 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Selma City Council voted to bring back City Treasurer Ronita Wade after Mayor Darrio Melton outlined for 15 minutes his reasons for terminating her employment two weeks ago.

Wade was fired Sept. 27 following a weeklong paid administrative leave.

Melton said Wade had been insubordinate, especially concerning this year’s city budget.

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During a Sept. 19 budget hearing, Wade gave council members an alternate budget other than the one Melton was presenting at the time.

“Ms. Wade derailed my presentation of a city budget by interrupting my report to the city council to introduce a budget she prepared without input from the mayor’s office. She further alleged I lied to the council by saying I received the revenue projections from her,” Melton said.

Melton said Wade emailed his chief of staff Ollie Davison in September with budget revenue projections totaling $18.7 million.

Melton said Wade had also been disciplined for a shouting match with another department head in March and interrupted him during a department head meeting to say that she didn’t have to report to him like other employees.

The mayor also said the treasurer negotiated with Regions Bank to pay $69,000 in pension payments due in August and September after Oct. 1 since they were not budgeted last year.

“Ms. Wade executed this decision without consulting the mayor and, to my knowledge, the council did not vote on that. The above-described action should not be executed by another other than the chief executive officer of the city,” Melton said.

Wade denied all those charges in a letter to Council President Corey Bowie and through her attorney Julian McPhillips.

Wade waived her opportunity to respond to Melton’s reasons for her termination, pending her reinstatement to city treasurer by the council.

“The allegations set forth in the disciplinary letter to me regarding the budget and my misconduct are false claims from the mayor’s chief of staff Ollie Davison and Mayor Darrio Melton,” Wade wrote in the letter.

McPhillips sent a separate letter to the city Sept. 26 demanding that Wade be reinstated and threatened a federal lawsuit otherwise.

The letter alleged that the city of Selma violated Wade’s First Amendment rights and she is being punished for not supporting Melton politically.

The letter also said Wade performed her job well and provided “accurate, professional and well-researched” information to the mayor and city council.

The letter also said any delays affecting the city’s budget were outside of her control and due to issues in other departments.

“We are very pleased and delighted that she has been reinstated. She should have been. She was wrongfully removed,” McPhillips said. “Hopefully, the mayor has learned a good lesson and will try to work in good faith with her. She has the support of the city council.”

Council president Corey Bowie, Angela Benjamin, Sam Randolph, Jannie Thomas and Michael Johnson voted to reinstate Wade retroactively back to Sept. 27. Susan Youngblood, Miah Jackson and Johnnie Leashore voted against that and wanted to table the decision. Carl Bowline was present earlier in the meeting but was absent for the vote.

In Selma and most Alabama cities, the city council appoints both the treasurer and city clerk.

Thomas said she would have liked to have known about issues with Wade earlier.

“If all of this is going on, this never came out. We never discussed that this was a problem, all of these issues you read,” Thomas said.

The mayor said he discussed some of the issues with Bowie and that HR actions don’t go before the council.

“We took action on the things that have built up over time,” Melton said. “When we have personnel issues we don’t have to go to Councilwoman Thomas to discuss, we go to the HR director.”

Randolph said the Wade had been treated unfairly and that any budget numbers she gave were a rough draft.

“That’s why you get the kinks out of it. That’s unfair for you to say the budget had a lot of errors. It’s going to have some errors in there because she is doing a rough draft,” Randolph said.

Randolph then said the treasurer didn’t have to answer to Davison and that the chief of staff was making up “bogus” reasons to write her up and the mayor was nitpicking.

“You can find anything on anybody when you go to nitpicking,” Randolph said.

Randolph then said Melton had gotten rid of several women in City Hall and replaced them with “weak men.”

“I shed tears about Ms. Wade — man it hurt me so bad,” Randolph said.

Melton apologized to people listening on the radio for having to “listen to such [lack of] decorum” and told Randolph “I wish you would cry for Selma and not just an individual.”

Melton said he believes many council members had already made up their mind about bringing Wade back. The council had an executive session Sept. 29 to discuss the “good name and character” of Wade.

Melton said that meeting could have been a violation of Alabama’s Opening Meetings Act.

Under state law, any discussion of how an elected or appointed employee is performing on the job cannot be done in an executive session.

“It seems to me that many of you have already made up your mind before the hearing. I think a position has already been taken prior to me bringing this tonight,” Melton said.

City Attorney Jimmy Nunn, who was out of town when the executive session took place, said any employee who has to file a statement of economic interest with the state ethics commission could not have their job performance discussed in an executive session.

“Discussing the appointed treasurer, that has to be done in the public,” Nunn said. “You cannot go into executive session.”

Bowie said the council didn’t discuss the treasurer’s job performance in the executive session, which was called to discuss an employee’s “good name and character.”

The council started to invite Wade into the executive session until a Selma Times-Journal reporter objected.

There is also some confusion about whether Tuesday’s vote will need another vote.

State law requires the council to vote whether or not to sustain the mayor’s action by a majority vote. The council instead voted to “reinstate” Wade. It’s a legality Melton said he would ask the Alabama League of Municipalities about Wednesday morning.

“They never cast that vote, but I don’t know how someone can interpret it — whether that was a vote to sustain,” Melton said.

There is also the question of if Melton can fire Wade again down the road and start the process over again.

“It goes back through the process. It can continue,” Nunn said. “If I got to that point, we would advise the mayor before any action is taken.”

Melton had hired a temporary treasurer from Birmingham named Jerry Cunningham who worked for the Department of Commerce. It’s not clear when Wade will return to work.

Melton said he wasn’t sure how the treasurer and mayor’s office would work together going forward.

“I don’t see this relationship between the mayor and treasurer as being salvageable,” Melton said after the meeting.

“I can’t trust anything the treasurer tells me. I can’t get real numbers. I can’t make decisions for the city when I feel like someone is misleading me and undermining me the whole time I’m trying to lead.”

The council, who doesn’t handle the city’s day-to-day operations, ended their discussion with more upbeat sentiments.

“We’ve got to do a little better as a council and not let this happen again,” Johnson said.

Bowie agreed the situation could have been handled better.

“Whenever we get into a circus like this, Selma loses. That’s really who loses,” Bowie said. “What’s the largest room in the world? The room for improvement.”