Wood introduced House Bill 174, a piece of local legislation which would repeal the Anniston City Council’s authority to hold an inquiry and subpoena witnesses, books and papers relevant to its investigation.
The problem, the councilmen have said, is that every council in the state has that authority and the Anniston City Council shouldn’t be singled out.
“To me, it’s what is called legislative bullying,” said Councilmen Ben Little, who asked for the discussion. “And we’re not the ones to be bullied.”
Councilman John Spain agreed.
“We’re certainly interested in seeing the bill defeated and actually bringing to the attention of the community the utter folly in this sort of approach in dealing with cities’ rights,” Spain said. “Whether you agree with what the city did
or was doing or will do in the future, to take this sort of approach is just absolutely ridiculous.”
However, Wood said that’s not what’s happening here. He lives in Anniston and only wants what’s best for the community, Wood said.
“All we want the city of Anniston to do, we just want them to come together and work together as a council,” Wood said. “Everybody can sit down and work things out. That’s all I want. They just keep on inquiry, inquiry, inquiry and I haven’t known anybody that’s even close to being indicted yet.”
The Alabama League of Municipalities, while not commenting on this particular piece of legislation, is in general opposed to local legislation that takes authority away from municipalities, said Lori Lein, deputy general counsel for the league.
“We’re always concerned when the legislature is trying to take away power and authority from our membership,” Lein said. “It’s come up a lot in terms of the occupation tax in the past. What they’ve done with the occupation tax is try to hit it locally rather than try to pass something statewide.”
Local legislation has its place, Lein said. That’s how a lot of annexations are done, for instance. In fact, there are a number of things that may be considered local issues that the Legislature must pass according to the state Constitution, said Tony McClain, general counsel at the Alabama State Bar Association.
“Some things cannot be accomplished with an ordinance, say, or a resolution of a city council or a county commission,” McClain said. “Some of those, there’s mandate that you have to have that legislation come through the state legislature, that it’s somewhere reserved in the Constitution or some case or some other statute that defines what the locals can do and cannot do.”
In general, with local legislation, the legislators give a certain amount of deference to the local delegation and that can lead to legal challenges. The hope is that the local legislators will have the best interests of their constituency in mind when they introduce local legislation.
“If a local legislator thinks that’s best for that circuit or that district or wherever they are elected from in the constituency, then you have very little opposition at the state legislative level,” McClain said. “I think it’s recognition that a lot of things are better decided at a local level.”
However, Little said he wasn’t contacted by Wood before the bill was introduced to discuss the proposal.
“We understand their authority, but at the same time, don’t dump on us,” Little said. “We were elected to do a job and we’re trying to do it the best that we can.”
Wood introduced the bill after residents approached him asking him to do something about the inquiry, he said. The legislation was what he had in his power to do.
Wood said he talked to Councilman David Dawson about arranging a meeting between him and the councilmen when the bill was being advertised, but he never heard back from Dawson.
Wood started advertising the bill in The Star in November. That was his legal obligation before introducing the bill, he said. But Little disagrees. He believes Wood should have had a local public hearing on the legislation before introducing it.
Little, who said he doesn’t believe the bill will pass the Senate, wants the Council to prepare to react in case the bill passes the Senate and the governor signs it into law.
“We’re going to probably try to locate an attorney about the Constitutional law,” Little said. “We want to be prepared.”
Wood said he doesn’t know how the legislation will fare in the Senate.
“Sometimes legislation gets bogged down in the Senate just as well as it does in the House, Wood said. “But I wanted to make sure I got it out of the House, which I did. If it doesn’t go any further, I did all I could do.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.