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Council’s year defined by ongoing tiff with city hall

In its first meeting of 2019, the Selma City Council laid the groundwork for what would become its primary concern over the next 12 months – the council hired Montgomery attorney Bobby Segall to represent it in a court hearing scheduled for the following Monday against Selma Mayor Darrio Melton.

The council would find itself sparring with the mayor repeatedly throughout 2019 – in court, in the press, over the airwaves and more – and the January preparations to go toe-to-toe with Melton over appointment powers was only the first.

Also at that meeting, the council discussed another issue that would become a centerpiece of its 2019 agenda: trash.

Melton would go on to suffer a loss in that first court case and would suffer a second later in the year.

By the end of January, the council had voted to undo a 1980s tax law that reserved around $400,000 annually for Selma City Schools, only to come back a couple of weeks later and back peddle on the vote.

In those early council meetings, Melton was present – during a meeting toward the end of January, the mayor brought forth his plan to raise local gas taxes by five cents, saying that the move would bring in around $1.5 million annually.

The council would go on to vote down the tax increase.

By February, the council was embroiled in another lawsuit regarding Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade who, at the time, was still on leave after multiple dismissals.

Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips filed the complaint against Melton and the city in late February and the council made it clear that it supported Wade’s return – it would be several months before a ruling restored Wade to her position, dealing yet another blow to Melton.

In early March, the council approved an ordinance to curb gunshots in the city by imposing fines of up to $500 on top of the possibility of 60 days in jail.

At that same meeting, former Selma Police Department (SPD) Chief Spencer Collier called on the city to approve funds for the purchase of new vehicles, but Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson was wary of the idea.

“We’re teetering on the brink of bankruptcy,” Jackson said during the March meeting, noting that within four years the city will owe an annual payment of $2.2 million on a refinanced bond. “I am so nervous that we are not going to be able to make payroll in the months of June, July and August. All I’m asking is that you give us some time. We’re going to do everything necessary to ensure you have just what you need.”

Only a few months later, Collier left the department, marking yet another battle the council would embark on in 2019: installing leadership at the SPD and the Selma Fire Department (SFD).

By April, council members were bemoaning the lack of access to city financial documents and a new requirement that they must submit information request form to access such documents.

At that same meeting, Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas blasted the police department for failing to respond to a burglary at Knox Elementary – Thomas said the burglars were able to stay in the building for hours, taking laptops and other items, without being interrupted by police officers.

A few days after that meeting, former SFD Chief Toney Stephens resigned from his position over a “hostile work environment,” setting the stage for the council to create and move forward on a plan to find a new chief the following month.

During the special called meeting in which that plan was established, Selma City Councilman Sam Randolph placed leadership dysfunction squarely at the mayor’s feet.

“It’s all because of our leadership,” Randolph said. “It starts at the top. It just doesn’t make any sense what’s going on in our city. It’s not fair to our city. We need to do something about this violence in our workplaces.”

Wade was already back on the job at that point, but was still fighting to gain access to all of the city’s financial documents.

Later in May, the council approved a proposal to put School Resource Officers (SROs) in two Selma City schools – Selma High School and R.B. Hudson STEAM Academy – but the effort would be derailed weeks later with Collier’s departure from the SPD.

During a June council meeting, Collier sparred with McPhillips, who appeared before the council to blast a second indictment against three SPD officers who only weeks prior had seen their charges tossed out.

“I wouldn’t be up here if you had a different mayor and a different police chief,” McPhillips said during the meeting. “If you don’t get a new police chief, you share in the responsibility for all that is going on here.”

Collier burst into the room shortly after McPhillips’ comment and the meeting descended into chaos as the two exchanged barbs over the shouts of those in attendance – later that night, Collier tendered his resignation, which became effective at the end of July.

The council then had to find a police chief, as well as a fire chief, and agreed on a similar process for both. – by the end of June, Robert Green was named Interim Chief of the SPD.

In early July, Wade and McPhillips were in court hoping for a final ruling – roughly 10 days later, the court ruled in Wade’s favor.

Around that time, Randolph called for a vote of “no confidence” in the mayor during a council meeting.

“It’s time for us to quit playing with this guy,” Randolph said during the July meeting. “What this man is doing right now, he’s trying to blame everything wrong with the city on the city council. The mayor’s intentionally not doing work in our wards. He doesn’t care about none of us and we need to make a statement.”

After initial confusion, it was confirmed by the Alabama League of Municipalities that the vote passed.

By August, Wade was reporting that city finances were “sound” and “healthy” and by September she and the council were tearing through Melton’s proposed budget, which was not approved by the council, and approved a $130,000 contract with the county jail.

After Melton’s budget was voted down, the City of Selma Public Works Department staged a weeks-long “sickout.”

By the end of the year, Chris Graham had been named Chief of the SFD and Kenta Fulford had been named Chief of the SPD.