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December 22, 2014

Barton files civil lawsuit to clarify his authority

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Larry Barton

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014 10:55 pm

TALLADEGA -- Mayor Larry Barton’s request for the Talladega County Circuit Court to clarify his authority under a constitutional amendment ratified in 2002 was electronically filed on Friday.

In a letter attached to his civil complaint, Barton reiterated “I have no ill will toward the council members nor the city manager, and I dislike having to take this action. As you will see, I have not asked for an increase in salary or money, nor any sanctions against the present council/city manager. All I am asking is for the law to be ruled on based on evidence presented and then whomever is elected in the coming years will not have to be faced with the uncertainty of where they are legal(ly) in any action requested of them.”

The law in question is the 738th amendment to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. The law creates a council/manager form of city government unique to Talladega and, as interpreted up until a few weeks ago, was understood to limit the authority of the mayor to ceremonial acts.

According to the suit, “the defendants contend that the mayor of Talladega, following the enactment of amendment 738, has no power, authority or duty other than ceremonial duties and have prohibited the plaintiff (Barton), since he assumed office on Nov. 7, 2011, from performing any duties or exercising any power and authority. However, the defendants have from time to time since Nov. 7, 2011, directed the plaintiff to appoint members of the city housing board and city planning authority, to sign certain contracts and deeds and to appoint a presiding judge to the Talladega Municipal Court. The plaintiff contends that he has all the powers and authority of the chief executive officer of any Class 6 Municipality and those powers granted to the mayor under” other relevant state laws.

Barton said he decided to pursue a declaratory judgment after being told that the mayor would have the authority to appoint a presiding judge if the council opted to appoint more than one judge. But the filing indicates that about a month after Barton was sworn in, he also sought an opinion on whether or not he still had the authority to pardon those convicted in municipal court and to cancel their fines. At the time, he was told that he did not have that authority under the amendment.

The court filing goes on for more than 50 pages, but essentially Barton’s lawyer is arguing that his client does have executive authority under four different theories: that the amendment “does not deprive the mayor … of the powers and duties of the mayors of other class 6 municipalities in Alabama;” that “Article 4 Section 4 of the United States Constitution provides ‘The United States shall guarantee to every state in the union a republican form of government,’ which is violated by amendment 738 if interpreted as the defendants contend it should be,” making it unconstitutional; that the amendment is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution “as a classification of Talladega separate and apart from the other municipalities of the state of Alabama;” and that the means of ratifying the amendment is a violation of Alabama’s Constitution of 1901 since it was placed on the ballot by means of a local law.

Friday’s filing asks the court to find either that the amendment “does not limit the executive powers of the mayor and that said mayor has all the powers not specifically granted to the manager that are granted to mayors of other Alabama municipalities;” that the amendment is void because of the way it was ratified; that the city is governed by the manager act of 1991, a separate statute from the amendment specifically governing Talladega; or that other relief be granted.

The next step in the process will be for the city’s attorneys to file a response to the filing laid out by Barton’s attorneys.

Although the city has not filed anything as of Monday, the historical gist of the argument is the section of the amendment that says, “The mayor shall serve on a part-time basis and shall be recognized as the head of the municipality for all ceremonial purposes, but shall have no other administrative duties. The salary of the mayor shall be set by the council to reflect a part-time position.”

Barton’s filing also asks the court to clarify exactly what a part-time position involves.

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