Dispute over councilman's eligibility reaches high court

Edwards off board until Supreme Court makes final decision


DORA – The Alabama Supreme Court has rejected a plea from Dora Councilman Chris Edwards to allow him to sit on the Water Works and Gas Board of Dora while the high court makes a final decision on whether he has the right to sit on the board permanently. 

The decision is a continuation of the battle that has been raging throughout the year to determine whether or not Edwards, as a city council member, has a right to sit on the utility board. 

Walker County Circuit Judge Doug Farris recently ruled in Edwards’ favor and made the appointment retroactive back to July. The board posted a $10,000 bond and appealed the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court. In addition, they filed an emergency stay requesting the court prevent Edwards from assuming his seat on board until the court rules on the appeal.   

The Supreme Court ruled that Edwards could not take the seat until it ruled on the original appeal. Edward’s filed a motion contesting that decision, but on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in the favor of the board, preventing Edwards from assuming his seat on the board until the court rules on the original appeal.

The Alabama Supreme Court still must make its final decision on whether or not Edwards can serve on the city council and the water works and gas board. 

Officials in Dora have been at odds on the matter since May 24, when the Dora City Council appointed Edwards to fill a seat on the board of directors of the city's water and gas board. 

Edwards would take the seat on the board, filling the seat being vacated by Norman Holt, whose term was expiring at the end of June. 

Thomas Carmichael, who is the attorney and spokesman for the board, explained that while he was researching a separate issue between the city and board during the same timeframe, he discovered a paragraph in the original Certificate of Incorporation that disqualified Edwards from serving. 

The language in the initial incorporation papers, which was written in 1954 when the utility board was first formed, stated that a sitting city official could not serve on the utility’s board. This wording was based on an Alabama  law at the time. McArthur Sargent, who was a sitting council member and chairman of the board, resigned from his city council position in June. 

After Edwards’ appointment, Carmichael sent a letter to the city, stating that Edwards was not qualified to sit on the board due to the prohibition in the incorporation papers. At the July board meeting, Edwards was there to assume his new seat, but Sargent did not recognize the new member’s appointment.

Later in July, Sargent, acting as chairman of the board, filed legal action in the Walker County Circuit Court against Edwards to resolve the dispute over whether Edwards could take the board seat.

During the court proceedings, it was pointed out that the state law prohibiting city officials from sitting on city municipal boards changed in 1956. The wording changed to allow city officials to serve in both capacities if municipal boards allowed it, according to the legal documents in the case.

When the name of the Dora utility board changed in 1971 from the Gas Board of the Town of Dora to its current name, the language excluding sitting city officials from serving on the board was deleted.  

The Certificate of Incorporation for the board was again restated and amended in 1991. The wording still did not forbid sitting members of the city officials to serve on the utility board, but it did not say they could either.

According to court documents, Sargent was not the only city councilman to hold seats on the council and the board at the same time. Dora City Councilman Arthur Lee Taylor served on the Dora utility board from 2004 until 2008 without objection, according to the lawsuit.

“The (Alabama state) law, as it pertains to council members serving, says that one, they have a right to serve, and if the board does not want him to serve, the bylaws have to prohibit it,” Jim Brakefield, Edwards’ attorney said. The Certificate of Incorporation was amended in 1971 and "restated" in 1991, according to Brakefield. 

“When you restate your Certificate of Corporation, you are basically doing away with the old one,” Brakefield said.

The board has a different viewpoint. Carmichael said that it was his understanding that there would have to be a resolution passed by either the board or the city to amend the charter to allow someone to serve in both capacities. Once both parties approved the action, the documents would have to be filed in probate court for it to comply with state law. 

“None of these things has happened,” Carmichael said.