April 1974: Mayor charged with shooting council member


April 1974 is best remembered locally for the tornado that struck downtown Jasper, but I found several equally newsworthy stories while perusing the bound volume this week. 

I'll get to the tornado and one other related story next week. Today I'm starting with an article of interest from the April 3, 1974, issue of the Daily Mountain Eagle.

The banner headline of the day was "Cordova Councilman Shot: Mayor Guy Tatum Charged."

Councilman Casey Pate was listed in fair condition at University Hospital, and Tatum had been charged with assault with intent to murder, according to the story's lead.

The incident had occurred inside City Hall on April 2 at around 9:30 p.m., minutes after the conclusion of a council meeting described by the paper as "unusually long and nerve-wearing."

A councilman who asked not to be named told reporter Debra Woodley that Pate had asked the council to stay after the meeting to continue discussing some things. 

Pate and Tatum, who had been shouting and calling each other liars during the meeting while the rest of the council sat in silence, picked up their quarrel, and Pate asked the mayor to "go out and settle this like a man."

The two walked into the mayor's office. A shot rang out shortly after one of the councilmen closed the door. Pate fell into the hall, and Tatum was quickly arrested by Cordova officers Roy Bunn and Jimmy Kitchens. 

Jasper police arrived, having been mistakingly informed that an officer had been shot. Sheriff Bunny Cottrell, several deputies, District Attorney Gerald Colvin and Special Investigator W.C. Wise also descended on City Hall.

A .25 caliber automatic pistol was taken from Tatum, and a similar weapon was removed from Pate's pocket before he was taken to the hospital, according to the Eagle.

Dr. George Weaver reported that Pate had been shot in the lower chest, and the bullet had lodged near his liver. The Eagle ran a blurry photo of Pate being rushed to an ambulance. 

According to the story, the two had butted heads on several issues. 

Tatum had been the sole vote against a 1-cent sales tax increase proposed by Pate and supported by the council. 

Pate had also accused Tatum of contacting Attorney General Bill Baxley about his service on the fire department. Baxley sent a letter in February advising the city that it was illegal for Pate to serve.

Tatum denied contacting Baxley but did say that he had spoken to the city attorney.

There was another argument about bills for a park project that was being spearheaded by Pate. Another council member had accused Tatum in a previous meeting of telling someone owed money by the city that no money had been set aside for the project.

There was no follow-up on the story until the April 17 issue, when the headline "Cordova Council Meeting Quiet" was given as much prominence as the earlier one about the shooting.

"It seems the days of gun-toting council meetings in Cordova are over," wrote Woodley.

Council member Shelley Drummond (a future mayor) called the incident "a shame to our city" and said he had discussed it with city attorney Hugh Beaird.

Drummond made a motion that no guns be allowed into council meetings and that individuals could be searched if it seemed necessary. Anyone who refused to be searched would have to leave the meeting. 

The motion passed unanimously.

Coverage of Cordova council meetings vanished from the Eagle in the weeks that followed. The next article I could find was June 20, 1974, when the council returned to the subject of a tax increase. 

Tatum and Pate were both present, and Drummond chose that night to test the previous resolution regarding firearms.

"Officer Roy Bunn conducted a search amidst much joking of all the men present, as well as women's handbags and desk drawers. No one left, and no weapons turned up," Woodley reported.

Pate lived a long, active life in Cordova. He passed away in 2006.

Tatum also remained in the city. He was better known to my generation for his stores downtown than for his involvement in this incident.

According to a 2001 article, Tatum opened his first store in 1941 and was still in the business at age 88. 

He had operated three stores on Main Street at one time but had by then sold two of the properties.

"People tell me, 'Guy, you're nearly 100 now, when are you going to retire?' I tell them, 'When they carry me to Mt. Carmel (Cemetery),'" Tatum told the Eagle.

He made that trip in 2005 at age 92.

The 2001 article lists several facts about Tatum's service to the town. In addition to being a former mayor and council member, he had been chairman of the Park and Recreation Department when the public swimming pool was built, served on the Cordova Industrial Board, served 25 years on the Water and Gas Board, helped organize the town's fire department and was involved in setting up the band program at Cordova High School.

Next week, I'll be looking into the story of a controversial business selling drug paraphernalia and sexually explicit materials that burned the day of the tornado under suspicious circumstances.  

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.