TALLADEGA -- Two neighbors in Talladega’s historic Silk Stocking District are suing each other in Circuit Court, according to public documents.
Talladega City Councilman and Historic Preservation Commission member David Street and the Crews family got into a dispute over a driveway two years ago. That suit was dismissed because the judge ruled the city of Talladega needed to be a party to it as well because there was a question involving a public right-of-way. The city was added earlier this year.
The Crews have now filed a counterclaim in Circuit Court alleging ethics violations and asking for damages.
In addition, the HPC, which is not named as a party in the Circuit Court case, has filed suit against the Crews in Talladega Municipal Court because they refused to acknowledge a cease-and-desist order that the board sent out during the summer. The board alleges a certificate of appropriateness (COA) was issued for work on a fence, but that the work being done now exceeds what is on the certificate. The HPC case and Circuit Court case are not directly related.
The documents filed by the Crewses allege that Street, as councilman, HPC member and person actively involved in litigation with the family in question, violated the state ethics law.
“Street’s continuous violations ultimately resulted in the chairman of the HPC filing a complaint with the city of Talladega on Dec. 9, 2015,” the cross claim says. “That complaint has never been addressed by the city … Despite a clear and unambiguous prohibition against a member of the HPC participating in matters in which he is a party or has a financial interest in, and legislation prohibiting a member of the City Council or HPC from doing the same, the city and HPC have not taken any action to address these violations and, in fact, through its agents and employees, have facilitated Street’s activities.”
The Crewses ask that the court determine that Street, the city and its various agencies all must comply with ethics regulations and to “enjoin them from continuing to ignore or violate said ordinance or legislation.
“The wrongful conduct of the city of Talladega, its agents, employees, the HPC and Street, unless and until enjoined and restrained by order of this court, will continue to result in violations of the aforementioned ordinance and legislation and will cause great and irreparable injury to the cross claimants.”
In addition to the injunctions and restraining orders, the claim also asks for damages to be determined by a jury, attorney fees, court costs and any other relief the court finds.
In the second count, the Crews allege they applied to the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness to do some work on their property in April 2014. The COA was granted in May but was withdrawn in July to allow for proper notification of the neighbors, according to the court filing. A second COA was approved in August, and Street filed a civil suit in Circuit Court in September. The claim says that Street, as a sitting board member, asked that this COA be voided in December, but his motion died for lack of second.
The board held a called meeting July 6, 2016, and issued a cease-and-desist letter regarding landscaping work and the removal of a driveway the board alleged was not covered by the COA. The Crews allege the board lacks both the legal authority to rescind a COA after it has been granted and to issue stop-work orders.
During the HPC’s last meeting, board Chairwoman Nancy Lutchendorf said the cease-and-desist letters had been ignored, and a suit was filed in Talladega Municipal Court earlier this month.
Lastly, the cross claims accuses the city of negligence by allowing Street to violate the various laws as alleged, interfering with their rights to improve their own real estate and violating the open records act, among others.
The counterclaim, filed the same day, encompasses everything in the cross complaint and adds allegations of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, violation of the litigation accountability act, negligence and wanton conduct. They ask for $75,000 on each of the first three and an amount to be determined by a jury in the other two.
The counterclaim states the Crews and the Streets had already taken their basic claims to court, and that case was dismissed in February.
“Said order confirmed the plaintiffs (Streets) have no actionable claim to an interest in the real estate owned by Mr. and Mrs. Crews. (The Streets) have no additional evidence or claim against (The Crews) which would render them liable to the claim that the (Streets) own an interest in the (Crews’) real estate. The action brought against (the Crews) is frivolous, unfounded and without merit,” the counterclaim says.
Street said he was familiar with the suit and would comment to the extent that he could. In a prepared statement, Street said “I’d like to state that I’d like for everyone to realize that many comments and accusations are based off partial or twisted truths and others are sometimes completely false in their entirety.”
“For the last almost 30 years, me and my family has chosen to live within the Silk Stocking District … As a resident, I am committed to being a contributing member of this city. As an appointed Historic Preservation Commission member, I am sworn to uphold the applicable ordinance(s), and as so I have and will continue to do so.
“As an elected Councilman, I am sworn to represent all residents, to be an honorable leader and abide by all laws. I have and will continue to do so even in the face of adversity such as now.”
He then draws out a lengthy timeline, starting with the fact that he and his wife were married in the Silk Stocking District and lived there immediately afterward. They bought their first house in the district in 1996 and their current one in 2010. The Crewses bought their house in 2014.
“On Sept. 2, 2014,I filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court to defend and protect my rights,” he said. “(In) September 2014 I was appointed to the Talladega Historic Preservation Commission, (and in) October 2015, I was elected to the Talladega City Council.
“The lawsuit over the driveway was first filed in 2014. In February 2016 … my lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice. (In) March 2016, I filed a motion to reconsider the judge’s order to avoid involving the city. In April 2016, (the motion was) denied, (and it was) ruled that the city must be involved in the litigation.
“In July 2016, after much prayer, I filed for a trial by jury in Circuit Court to defend and protect my rights. I attempted to resolve the situation, and my neighbors were unwilling to settle or resolve the issue. In October 2016, my neighbors filed a countersuit in Circuit Court against me and others.”
“I did not surrender my rights once I stepped into the arena of public service. I will defend my right and the rights of others like me until the end. Lastly, I’d like to say I look forward to a final resolution that will be decided in a court of law that considers factual evidence.”