DORA – The Dora City Council on Thursday voted 4-2 for Gary Thomas to fill an open seat on the council, but not before a discussion on the possibility of appointing a minority on the council.
The opening on the council was created when McArthur Sargent, who is white, resigned back in May. With the new council, all the members of the council will remain white.
David Box, Robert Busby, John Jackson Jr., Richard Lovelady, Gary Thomas, and Hezikiah Walker all had expressed interest in filling the vacancy. Many of them had served on the council in the past.
Councilman Randy Spears made a motion for Thomas to fill the vacant position. The motion was seconded. During the subsequent discussion, Councilman Arthur Lee Taylor reminded the council that the Justice Department got involved in the local in the past.
The guidance provided then was geared toward making the local elections in Dora more inclusive of minorities.
“I just think it would be an injustice if a minority is not appointed to fill the position,” Taylor said.
Councilman Marion Combs was on the city council when this ruling came down, and he said the Justice Department approved a plan that would make the elections at large and that the top seven vote-getters would win a seat on the council.
Mayor Randy Stephens asked if the council was changing anything relative to that ruling.
“Is there any bias or misrepresentation that’s part of this city council?” Stephens asked.
“Not on my part. I can’t answer for y’all,” Taylor responded.
Combs said that Thomas is a great man, but he added that if he wanted to be on the council, he should have run.
“The appropriate thing to do is to choose the number eight man. The people voted, and the man that came in eighth only lost by three or four votes if I recall,” Combs said.
The candidate who came in eighth in the election was Hezikiah Walker, who is African-American. He went on to say that Walker was probably around City Hall more than any of us. “I think he would be a great choice,” Combs said.
Stephens then called for a roll call vote on the motion to select Thomas to fill the vacancy. Taylor and Combs voted no. The mayor abstained, the four remaining council members voted yes, and the motion carried.
Combs asked if it was legal for Thomas to serve on the East Walker County Sewer Board. Stephens said that Thomas could not serve on the council and be a member of the sewer board. He will have to resign that position because council members cannot serve the sewer board while on the council.
Walker asked if he could make some comments regarding the decision on Thomas.
“Mr. Spears alluded to the fact that was no bias, and there might not be. I’m not saying there is, but this gives the illusion of bias,” Walker said.
He went on to point out that there are three major entities in Dora.
“We’ve got the city council, the sewer board, and the utility board and there is no minority representation on either of those boards,” Walker said. “While the Justice Department guided us the last time on what to do, we ought not to have someone tell us what to do all the time if we know it’s the right thing to do.
"Now the eighth person, whoever that eighth may have been, was voted on by some of the people of Dora. It was more than eight people who voted for that eighth person. In order to represent all the citizens of Dora and not just eight people on the council. I’m not saying it’s illegal, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said. He was referring to choosing the person that came in eighth during the regular elections.
He went on to say that the Justice Department told the city what to do one time and asked if the city needed them to do that again.
While Walker had the floor, he asked if the council had met prior to the regular council session to discuss each candidate up for the vacancy on the council.
“We all voted our conscience,” Stephens said. “It’s a majority vote, and the majority spoke. And we have to live with that,” he said.
Combs told Walker that he received the list of names the morning of the council meeting.
Regarding the sewer board, Stephen said that the city has had a hard time getting anyone to serve on the sewer board and if Walker has an interest in that position, that he should talk to the council about it.
Walker continued saying that he wasn’t asked to serve on the sewer board to fill the last vacancy.
Spears clarified that the city council has nothing to do with selecting members for the sewer board, as members of the sewer board are selected by the Walker County Commission. Walker said that they base those selections on the recommendations of the city council. Stephens said that they may or may not. The commission has denied candidates, according to Stephens.
In other action, the council:
• Approved a request from park and recreation officials to buy two new tackling dummies for the department's upcoming youth football teams.
• Held an executive session to discuss pending litigation.