LaFayette’s City Council addressed several hot topics at Monday night’s meeting in City Hall and at times emotions ran high as the council took action on multiple issues. With the municipal elections looming, unethical campaigning has apparently become a problem in the city and the council debated the dilemma at length on Monday.
The council also made it a point to clear up a few misconceptions that have been heard over the past two weeks, including the city’s recent redistricting, among other things. Mayor Matthew Hurst and council members David Ennis, Tammie Williams, Allen Tucker and Stevie Rowe were present; Councilman Cornelius Reese was absent.
Williams brought several concerns to the attention of the council on Monday night, most notably an issue involving a campaign ethics violation. She stated that a complaint was received that morning about a city employee who was campaigning for a candidate in the upcoming election while on city time. She did not disclose the name of the candidate in question, however. “We’ve had this discussion with the department heads to tell their employees that first of all it’s illegal,” she said. “Second of all, that we would not tolerate it. I don’t know what the solution is because we cannot continue to have employees disobey instructions. It’s unethical and it’s against the law.”
Mayor Hurst said that he had met with the individual and that person stated lack of communication as the reasoning. In addition to the individual, Hurst placed blame on the department heads. “Today, what we did was we put it in writing,” Hurst said. “We’ve asked all the department heads have their employee sign a statement saying they are aware of the rule and that next time it happens they will be terminated.”
Ennis, who at a previous council meeting had stressed at great length the ethical and legal guidelines regarding employee campaigning, weighed in on the issue. “We came up here two months ago and said that it was a violation of the law for certain things to happen and every department head was made aware of it,” he said. “This ignorance is a bunch of crap, there is a policy manual that the employee signed before he took the job.” He then read the passage in the employee manual that stated that no city employee shall campaign or otherwise engage in political activity for or against a candidate, and participation in those activities at the workplace on city property during city hours is prohibited and any violation shall be sufficient grounds for termination.
“We are not going to allow it to stand,” he said. “In my opinion, everyone better be on notice.”
City Attorney Mac Tucker also noted that employee campaigning is a violation of state law. “If we sit up here and keep our mouths shut out of political correctness, it’s never going to stop,” Ennis added. “And it need to stop dead in its tracks tonight!”
In another election-based discussion, Williams brought up a complaint she had received about political signs on the right-of-way. “There are several different codes as far as political signs are concerned, some regarding size, some regarding location,” Mayor Hurst said. “We’ve got signs all over town, both political and non-political that are in code violation, and if the council acts tonight then we will enforce these strictly by the code, but I, so far, have been dealing with them strictly on a case by case basis.” He noted several cases where action has been taken to move a sign, such as one blocking the view at an intersection, but said that he has not formed a “sign patrol.” “I think right now it’s being handled appropriately,” he added.
Ennis said later that if any sign is egregious as far as their location, such as interfering or blocking a city sign, then the candidate should be given 24 to 48 hours to move it or have it removed. He put it in the form of a motion and it was approved unanimously.
Williams also made a motion to declare a property adjacent to the Chambers County Group Home on 431 1st Ave. SE a nuisance. She presented a series of photos to the council showing an overgrown area with debris outside the fence at the group home, which houses mentally challenged adults, and noted the danger it posed to the residents. Williams stated that the property was owned by the Board of Education and that she had asked City Clerk Louis Davidson to contact Board Superintendent Kelli Tucker about upkeep, but there was a question about who owned the property. Williams noted that she had also attempted to reach a board member, but a call was not returned. She made a motion that the city declares the property a nuisance with a 30-day notice to clean the property. “It’s a very serious matter,” she said. The motion was approved unanimously.
Finally, Williams made a point to voice her displeasure with a recent economic fact-finding visit to Chambers County by a Russian delegation, noting that she had only heard about the visit after reading about it in The LaFayette Sun. “I’m just a little perturbed that no one from the city of LaFayette was invited to be part of this delegation,” she said. “Valley had representation, Lanett and the county were all represented. I just wanted to let everyone know that LaFayette exists. We lost textile industries too; we had people out of jobs and still have people out of jobs. It just saddens my heart that everyone had representation except LaFayette. Our city is just as good as any other city around here and as long as I’m on the council I’m going to stand up for the city.”
There was a lighter side to the meeting on Monday night, as the council proclaimed Friday, August 3 as a day of prayer for Chambers County. Assistant City Clerk Dianne Perry spoke to the council about the day of prayer, saying that this year’s event will be in its 12th year of existence. The event will take place on the East side of the Chambers County Courthouse at 6 pm CST and the entire community is invited to pray for Alabama and Chambers County and the local and state leaders.
In discussing a recent proposal for the city to purchase the Go To My PC software to allow remote connection to city hall computers, Davidson noted that the city already uses a service called LogMeIn that will allow remote access at no charge. Davidson and the council made it a point to note that this would not allow the clerk or other employees to work from home, but rather would provide limited access for completion of brief tasks after hours or on weekends. They noted that it would be strictly monitored and would not be abused.
Davidson also made it a point to clear up a misconception about the recent redistricting in the city. He said the Department of Justice had officially approved the redistricting and that they would be in effect for the upcoming elections.