City Treasurer back on administrative leave, files EEOC complaint

Published 3:41 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017

Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade is back on paid administrative leave as of Thursday morning, her attorney Julian McPhillips and Selma Mayor Darrio Melton confirmed.

Melton fired Wade on Sept. 27, but the Selma City Council voted Tuesday to reinstate her as city treasurer.

Wade’s attorney said she reported to work Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. and waited for more than three hours to meet with Melton before leaving before noon.

“He kept her waiting like he was going to see her but never did see her,” McPhillips said.

Wade then returned to City Hall on Thursday morning and learned she was on paid leave, according to McPhillips.

“She wants to return to work and do a good job. She is willing to let bygones be bygones, but the mayor is dictatorial, and he wants everyone to kiss his feet. She has been nothing but respectful.”

McPhillips, who is a partner in a Montgomery law firm, sent a letter to Melton on Thursday saying that putting Wade on leave again is “a bad faith violation of the Selma City Council’s vote this past Tuesday night to reinstate her and put her back to work.”

The letter demanded she be reinstated or Melton and the city “shall face legal consequences.”

On Wednesday, Wade filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Birmingham.

The sex discrimination complaint alleges Melton had “disrespect for women generally in the city government, especially women who are respected as being strong leaders, and when given the chance, he fired them and me” and replaced them with “men with more passive or submissive personalities.”

The complaint lists Gerald Chestnut, who worked briefly in planning and development following Melton’s election; director of human resources Valeria Jones; and administrative assistant Dorita Clay as women Melton has fired or pushed out of office.

Before being reinstated, Wade filed a notice of claim against the city and demanded her job back or a $100,000 settlement, the largest allowed under state law. The notice also alluded to a possible federal First Amendment lawsuit and charged she was discriminated against because she didn’t support Melton politically.

Melton confirmed that Wade was back on administrative leave but said he couldn’t comment further since legal action had been threatened against the city.

“She has an attorney involved, and I’ve turned it over to our attorneys as well,” Melton said.  “I’m limited as to what I can say about that at the moment.”

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Melton outlined for 15 minutes his reasons for terminating Wade. He said she had been insubordinate and was working to undermine him.

As proof of that, Melton said during a Sept. 19 budget hearing, Wade gave council members a budget she had made without consulting the mayor. This was while Melton was presenting to the council a separate budget his office prepared.

“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.

During the budget hearing, Wade said Melton was incorrect to say he had gotten revenue projections from her. However, the mayor said he had emails to prove that the treasurer had, in fact, supplied the figures he used in his budget.

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 Wade 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 during Tuesday’s meeting.

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.

Melton said after the meeting that he didn’t trust Wade, and he wasn’t sure their working relationship could be restored.

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

Melton called the entire episode “petty politics” and said the city had more significant issues it needs to focus on.

“I’m hoping the council can put the city first and not get bogged down in the action of one employee,” Melton said.

The city council appoints the city treasurer and city clerk. Had Melton disciplined or terminated any other department head, the council would not have been able to overturn his decision.

Bowie and Thomas presented a memo to Melton on Thursday demanding Melton reinstate Wade as the council voted Tuesday to do, and asked for a response in writing.

The meeting got heated evidently, and Thomas said Melton told her and Bowie to leave his office and summoned police officers.

“There was nothing for him to call the police for,” Thomas said. “We didn’t argue. We left. There was no need for us to argue about anything.”

Melton said Bowie told him he had to get back to work and left, and that a council member (who the mayor did not identify by name) was “very confrontational” but left on his or her own accord, and the police were not involved.

Efforts to reach Bowie for comment were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.