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Mayor, IT Department shut down council office

As the city was easing into the holiday season, Selma Mayor Darrio Melton was taking steps to systematically shut down the Selma City Council office in city hall and thwart the work of the council’s contracted administrative assistant, Carneetie Ellison, who has previously filed complaints against Melton for retaliation and sex discrimination, according to Ellison and multiple council members.

Earlier reports of the incident stated that an attorney general opinion in favor of the council’s contract sparked Melton’s response, but no council members were able to corroborate such an assertion.

According to Ellison, who began working for the council Nov. 19 of last year, the phones in the council office have never been restored, aside from brief instances where outgoing calls could be made but no incoming calls could be received.

Additionally, council email addresses, which were disabled around the time of the 2018 layoffs, have never been restored, so Ellison created an account so that the council could correspond with constituents and the mayor’s office.

On Dec. 16, Ellison submitted a form requesting ink for the council office copier – because hard work order forms were being returned from the mayor’s office, Ellison contacted Melton via email two days later, copying the Selma Public Works Department, with a variety of work orders.

Two days later, the internet was cutoff in the council office.

That same day, Selma City Councilman Corey Bowie purchased ink for the copier – upon returning from the Christmas vacation, Ellison and council members found that access to the copier had been shut off.

“The council office, as of that day, was shut down and they were impeded from fulfilling their contract,” Ellison said. “Even in a contracted position, he’s still coming after me. There’s a clear vision that he’s targeting me. For what reason? I do not know. It’s not the contract, it’s the person.”

Indeed, Melton has been clear about his opposition to Ellison’s contract – a memo addressed to the council asserted that the contract was illegal and the mayor has blasted Ellison, the council and the contract in his weekly radio show.

However, the council has previously contracted administrative work with winter interns that Melton signed off on, according to Ellison and Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas.

For his part, Bowie bemoans the fact that the conflict is standing in the way of council members communicating with citizens.

“We don’t have the necessary tools to reach out to our constituents,” Bowie said. “Hopefully, I will be corresponding with [the mayor] and requesting that all the technology be restored, because those are some pillar functions that we need to do the day-to-day work of the council and communicate back and forth with our citizens.”

Selma City Councilwoman Angela Benjamin is the one who brought Ellison’s contract to the floor for a vote after more than a year without assistance.

“We were effectively disconnected from our constituents,” Benjamin said. “Those who use the council office for communication were really cut off. There was no connection between the council office and council and people felt like they couldn’t get in touch with their representatives.”

Benjamin said the decision to contract Ellison for the office work, rather than pursuing more traditional channels for hiring her, was due to the fact that she likely would not have been hired – Benjamin added that if a “blue moon came out” and she was hired, the mayor would have made working beneath him as difficult as possible.

“Everything that’s supposed to be done by the city we’re contracting for services because Public Works is out there not doing the work,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin verified the systematic dismantling of council office technology over the past several weeks.

“It seemed like each day something was being cut off for her and it’s sending us back to ground zero in being disconnected from the citizens,” Benjamin said. “It seems like every day or every other day something is being taken away from [Ellison], from our office. This is not a ‘something happened to the system’ type of thing, it is a shutdown of that room and that office.”

Benjamin contends that the mayor’s actions illustrate both a disdain for the council and Ellison.

“His behavior is hateful toward that office,” Benjamin said. “His behavior is not professional. His behavior reflects that he is not going to work with that office and he wants that office to fail. He has targeted that one office and nobody is in there but [Ellison]. Now, what does that say?”

According to Thomas, Benjamin’s claim that the council office shutdown was not by mistake is accurate – Thomas stated that she questioned Selma Information Technology (IT) Department Director Betsy Curtis about the issues; Curtis responded that her orders came directly from the mayor’s office.

“When you get shut out, she’s the one that does it and the mayor’s the one that tells her to do it,” Thomas said. “The citizens should know that 2020 is still the same as we left 2019. I don’t think it’s going to get any better until a new mayor gets in office.”

Thomas asserts that department heads that have cozied up to the mayor are receiving preferential treatment and being given more power than they are due.

“We have people making decisions on things and they’re just department heads, not an elected official,” Thomas said. “The council has to do its duty. We have to do what we were elected to do. The council can contract and the mayor knows that.”

Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, who already represents Ellison in a case against Melton, believes the mayor’s latest actions represent yet another attack on Ellison and are likely illegal.

“He’s opening up a Pandora’s box and he’s going to fall deep into the box himself because he’s violating law and custom and practice,” McPhillips said. “I think he’s going to be in hot water – he’s already in hot water because he’s facing lawsuits from all directions.”

For his part, McPhillips believes it’s time for the city to take action.

“He’s just caused a lot of problems and it’s not too late for the people of Selma to consider impeachment,” McPhillips said. “If [U.S. President Donald] Trump can be impeached, so can the mayor.”

Attempts to contact Melton’s office by phone were unsuccessful and a request for comment sent via email Thursday to the mayor garnered no response.