City Council votes to scrap audit to try to force Melton to reinstate treasurer

Published 3:59 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Selma City Council is suspending a forensic audit the body unanimously voted for two weeks ago in an attempt to force Mayor Darrio Melton to bring City Treasurer Ronita Wade back to work.

Councilman Sam Randolph said he was told Wade is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the audit and made a motion to abandon it.

“We need to do what is right for Ms. Wade and demand that she be put back in her position,” Randolph said.

Randolph, Council President Corey Bowie, Angela Benjamin and Jannie Thomas voted to scrap the audit.

Carl Bowline, Michael Johnson and Susan Youngblood voted against the motion, while Miah Jackson and Johnnie Leashore were absent.

“Just a few weeks ago, 100 percent of the council thought we needed a forensic audit. Now, four of us think we don’t need a forensic audit?” Youngblood said. “I just don’t understand that. A forensic audit is pretty serious … That just doesn’t look good folks. Doesn’t look a damn bit good.”

The mayor said the council should be more concerned with the city finances than delving into personnel issues at city hall.

“The question I have for those who voted [to stop the audit] is what are they are trying to hide?  Instead of being concerned about the finances of the city, they are occupied with personnel issues, which is not their responsibility,” Melton said. “They made that vote to have a forensic audit. I didn’t even ask for it. They asked for it. It’s unfortunate that they want to be political, but our city is in a financial crisis because the council has failed to act. We told them before we will have to generate revenue or we will have to cut positions.”

Melton said he was meeting with department heads Wednesday morning to discuss eliminating positions.

“We can’t continue to move forward and pay the bills or make payroll if the council won’t step up and do what their job is and that’s to make sure the city has the revenue it needs to operate,” Melton said.

Before the audit vote passed, Randolph also made motions to furlough all department heads until Wade returns, to defund a position in the finance department that Melton has filled and to hire an attorney to represent the council in bringing the treasurer back. All three of those motions died without a second.

Randolph wanted to defund the position that Jerry Cunningham, who worked in the Department of Commerce, has been appointed to in the finance department and questioned how his position was created.

“It’s unfair that we have an amateur down there trying to run our books and don’t know nothing; coming up with bogus financial statements talking about we are hurting for money,” Randolph said.

City Attorney Jimmy Nunn said Cunningham could have been appointed to any number of vacant positions in the city.

“We can’t assume it’s a new position. There may be a vacant position in the city of Selma that [Melton] placed him in,” Nunn said.

When asked Wednesday morning about the position, Melton said Cunningham filled a vacant position, but he isn’t the city treasurer or in charge of that department.

“His name is not on any accounts. He is bonded, however, and able to provide information needed for me to making financial decisions,” Melton said. “That’s what I wanted from the city treasurer, but I wasn’t getting the information needed to make intelligent decisions. She was misleading me and misguiding me on the finances of the city.”

Still, Randolph said he wanted the position eliminated.

“I don’ t care where he is getting funded from. Let’s defund that position. He’s getting paid from somewhere,” Randolph said. “We have that right. I don’t care if he’s getting paid for being head janitor of city hall, the grass cutter, or whatever. Whatever he is getting paid from, I want to defund that.”

Bowie said the council needed to get a better understanding if Cunningham was in an open position and whether it was full-time or part-time or temporary.

“I feel you. I understand you, but one thing about this — you have to do your diligence,” Bowie said. “You look at it from a bigger picture and make sure you get your facts straight before you move forward. You don’t want to make an impromptu position.”

Randolph also questioned whether Nunn could properly represent the council in the dispute between Melton and Wade since he serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Randolph said he would be willing to pay for an attorney from his discretionary funds.

“I like attorney Nunn, but we need our own representation because if I was attorney Nunn I would be doing just what the mayor said because he could fire me,” Randolph said.

Nunn said it was his job to advise the mayor and council on the law, whether they liked it or not.

“It won’t be the first time the city council has said they want another attorney to represent them because the law is the law. I can’t get around the law. You may want it to swing in your favor,” Nunn said. “I advised you that you had the right to bring [Wade] back, and you did that. I couldn’t sway and tell the mayor you couldn’t do that. City council, you have never placed anyone on administrative leave. That’s not your function.”

Melton fired Wade on Sept. 27 saying she was insubordinate and working to undermine him. As proof, he cited a Sept. 19 budget hearing where Wade presented the council with a budget she prepared without consulting him, while he was presenting a separate budget his office prepared.

Wade has denied she did anything wrong and has filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Birmingham.

Before being reinstated, Wade also filed a notice of claim demanding her job back or a $100,00 settlement, the largest allowed under state law. Her attorney also threatened a possible federal First Amendment lawsuit and charged she was being punished for not supporting Melton politically.

The council voted to reinstate Wade in a 5-3 vote on Oct. 10. Two days later, Melton put her back on paid leave, where she has been since.