All but one member of the council, Weaver Mayor Garry Bearden, supported the measure. Bearden cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he believed hosting a candidate’s forum in the city council’s chambers is illegal.
He added that he isn’t generally opposed to the forum.
“If you can have, in my opinion, a fair, non-biased opportunity for the candidates and the residents to interface, I think it’s great,” Bearden said.
Bearden said he bases his opinion an article recently published by the Alabama League of Municipalities concerning public employees and the political process. Bearden asserts the city’s council members are public employees, and therefore must adhere to certain restrictions that would prohibit them from using the city’s chambers for the forum.
The Anniston Star obtained a copy of the article from Weaver resident Greg Pierce, who initially spearheaded the effort to host a candidate’s forum.
Bearden also repeatedly stated that he was concerned that the forum would be biased, a claim that the Lion’s Club members, who will organize the event, denied.
“I resent very much the accusation that has been made here that the Lions Club has been political,” Ed Kimbrough, a Lions Club member and former Weaver mayor said. “I assure you we are non-political.”
The council members who voted in support of allowing the Lions Club to host the event in the chambers disagreed with Bearden’s stance on the matter.
“We are not city employees,” council member Ellen Cole said. “This is not biased because every candidate, whether they're running for reelection or running for the first time, is invited.”
Several Weaver residents stood before the council Tuesday to speak in support of hosting the candidate’s forum, some reassuring Bearden the event would not be biased, despite the mayor’s doubts.
“This is not about me. This is not about you,” said Pierce, who supports another candidate for mayor and initially proposed the forum. “I sincerely hope you attend. I think it would be a loss for you not to be there.”
Other Alabama cities seem more than willing to host candidate forums in city buildings. Candidates for mayor of Anniston are scheduled for a debate Aug. 7 in the Anniston City Meeting Center, a city building. Every other municipality in the county also plans to host candidate forums for the upcoming municipal election, according to Jack Brim, who attended the meeting and is helping the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce organize political forums for the cities.
According to the Rainsville Chamber of Commerce website, the chamber will host a forum Aug. 13 in the Tom Bevill Center – a city building where municipal court is held. Madison City Council candidates held a forum in May in Madison City Hall, according to the Huntsville Times. The Trussville Area Chamber of Commerce has a candidate forum scheduled for Aug. 7 at the Trussville Civic Center, according to the Chamber’s website.
About six members from the Lions Club attended the meeting. The club asked the city Tuesday
to place their request on the agenda for consideration, but it was not added by the time the meeting began.
Bearden selects which items are placed on the agenda. The council later amended it to add the Lions Clubs request, at Cole’s asking.
The meeting ended on a conciliatory note.
“It’s necessary for us to work together as much as we can,” Bearden said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_star. Star Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette contributed to this report.