This is the second meeting Richardson has attended since he was released from jail on Sept. 27 on a $250,000 property bond after being arrested on charges of sexual misconduct.
As Richardson quickly made his way down the first half of the agenda, there was a slight hesitation when an issue arose about the replacement of utilities board member Ronnie O’Rear. O’Rear’s time on the board had expired, and his seat was left available to either fill or be reappointed.
District 3 council member Terry Mason made a motion to appoint Billy Wright to the board and it was seconded by District 5 council member James Pendley. However, Mason asked if he could elaborate on the matter.
“There is a controversy about Mr. O’Rear coming off the board. It is not the city council that is removing Mr. O’Rear; it is the utilities board that have requested that he be removed from the board. All we do is put them on there,” Mason said. “It is up to the utilities board to police themselves, to conduct themselves in a manner which is going to be beneficial to the utilities system. However, when they bring something before the city council and want action, it is our job, our duty, to do what we have to do.”
Currently, the utilities board operates on a “2-4-6” system, according to Mason — meaning after a two-year term the board member may either seek reappointment to the board or be done fulfilling their duties and serving as a member on the board. The terms are served in increments of two, every two years they may either seek reappointment up to six years total or step down from their position.
Mason then added, “I am submitting a resolution that from here on, all members of the utilities board shall be limited to a three-year term, seeing as how it’s already on a staggered basis now, and that at the end of the three-year term the utilities board will submit in writing if they want these persons to remain on the board or to be taken off the board. That would be taken care of by the city council.”
Ken Guin, once the city’s legal representative and now serving as Richardson’s attorney, offered a suggestion to the council after Mason’s comment.
“I would request that you not vote on this tonight. Utilities boards are set up by state statute and the terms of office, and I don’t remember whether it’s three-year terms set up in state statute or not, but they are set up statutorily and you have to go by that,” Guin said. “The second thing is to replace a member of the utilities board it’s not the utilities board’s decision. That is not in state law. There is a constitutional amendment that is specific to Walker County that allows the city council to remove a member for cause, if you ever choose to, but I think you’re probably opening Pandora’s box with a resolution if that’s what you want to go with, because I don’t think it follows state law related to utility boards.”
While the council had adjourned to go into executive session, Guin spoke to city clerk Janice Pendley about the proposed resolution.
“They are set up in state statute, and the municipality can’t change what state law is. Now, there’s certain ways they can modify provisions where they’re given leeway, but to just make a resolution, like what was presented tonight was uninformed and would potentially lead to litigation,” Guin said, “and it’s something that I would recommend they take before their city attorney before they take any action.”
After council members returned from the executive session and approved a motion to increase Police Chief Ron Colburn’s salary by $2, which is the amount it was set to previously, and heard from Colburn, Mason, Sandra Garrison and Mark Chambers, the council adjourned.
Mason said after the meeting that the utilities board has voiced its opinion in writing that they do not want O’Rear on the board.
“We tried to take him off the board before, but a law that was passed by Ken Guin that was written into the books by Ken Guin in this area only, we couldn’t do that, so we had to put him back on the utilities board,” Mason said. “But, once that time expired, it is our prerogative to keep him or take him off, and he is off as of tonight.”
In other business, the council:
•approved the RDS to collect all business license effective immediately with the 2014 business licenses.
•heard from the police, fire and street department heads and city clerk.
Mason spoke briefly about the coal miners’ and veterans’ memorial. Garrison invited everyone to come out and support the city’s Christmas in the Hills Saturday, Dec. 14.
Pendley asked Dewayne Dobbins, who is a city firefighter, how long he had been serving on the city’s industrial board. Dobbins replied four or five months.
Pendley then asked him how many times the board has met, to which Dobbins said, “None.”
“We have an industrial board that’s not meeting, not doing the city any good at all. I think we need to either get them active or do away with it or whatever,” Pendley said. “Maybe get new members if we have to, but we need to do something about getting some activity on the industrial board.”