The focus on the mayor is a shift from previous lines of questioning in earlier hearings of the council’s ongoing inquiry — an inquiry ostensibly targeting illegal or illicit conduct by councilmen and city staffers.
Questions in recent weeks had focused on the issuance of a license to a business owner who had not paid required fees. The problems of that business owner, who was not named, were similar to those of Circuit Judge Joel Laird, owner of the Courthouse Cafe’. But through another judge’s ruling Friday, Laird was relieved from having to testify to the council Monday.
Robinson has refused to attend the inquiry hearings and was not on hand to question witnesses or to testify. He did not return a call for comment Monday night following the hearing.
Dawson, along with the other council members, questioned local businessman Rod James, who was present at the inquiry at the behest of a subpoena he said he received about 2 p.m. Monday, or an hour before the hearing had been scheduled to start.
James told them about two run-ins he had with Robinson in the past year.
In August 2009, after he had been unable to attend a meeting about Super Saturday, James said Robinson sent him a thank-you note referencing Tuco, a character from the movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the two had discussed at an earlier date. Tuco was a character that had been double-crossed by another character in the movie and sought revenge. In the movie, Tuco told the other character that if he [the other character] left him [Tuco] alive, he didn’t understand Tuco, James said.
“He [the mayor] was a little upset that I wasn’t going to be there and he had asked for my support,” James said. “So, the piece of mail that I got that would capture that, was a thank you card and basically on the inside was written, ‘You don’t understand Tuco.’”
James believed the card was from the mayor because of their previous conversations about Tuco and because the return address on the envelope was the address of the mayor’s Noble Street store.
In another incident, James said Robinson came to his business for a meeting, became angry and cussed at him.
James said he has since had civil conversations with the mayor.
After James, it was Dawson’s turn to testify.
Dawson answered questions about an incident at a meeting when the mayor allegedly used abusive language against him after he voted with councilmen Ben Little and Herbert Palmore against the mayor’s vote.
“The mayor said, ‘You [expletive phrase deleted] you better never vote with him again,’” Dawson said. “It was certainly disturbing.”
In another instance, Dawson said the mayor called him on the phone after reading a comment he had made in the newspaper and threatened him saying, “‘I’ll remember that.’”
After Dawson left the witness chair, City Manager Don Hoyt was called on to testify.
Through the council’s line of questioning, members attempted to assign responsibility for what they said was an improper committment of $300,000 to a company that would develop an apartment complex for the elderly in the 2100 block of Noble Street.
Little read a letter allegedly written by the mayor and mailed to the Alabama Housing Authority in March confirming that Clarence P. Williams, then director of the Community Development Department, was the director of the program and also the administrator of the HOME Investment Partnership Act Program in Anniston.
“In these capacities, Mr. Williams is authorized to make commitments with regard to HOME funds,” the letter reads. The council also had two other letters, both allegedly from Williams — one to the Alabama Housing Finance Authority and another to The Reserve at Greenbrier, Ltd.
The second letter committed to the Reserve a loan for construction financing for $300,000 from the HOME funds to build an apartment development for the elderly.
Williams’ letters were dated March 9, two days before Robinson’s letter and the same day that the council refused to give him a separate contract for $18,000 to administer the HOME program.
“He submitted a proposed contract to be the administrator, but the council did not approve that at that time,” Hoyt said. “He would not administer it if the proposed contract was not approved.”
Williams had been administering the program through his job as director of Community Development before that.
Hoyt admitted that he didn’t know about the letter until recently.
“They came to light because of the result of the letter,” Hoyt said. “They came to light in discussions with two developers who were in competition over receiving home funds.”
Hoyt said he believes the city may have some legal problems because of the letters. There are specific guidelines for awarding HOME funds, he said.
“If a commitment was made improperly, that could lead to lawsuits,” Hoyt said.
Councilman John Spain asked Hoyt why he hadn’t done anything about the letters. Hoyt replied he had only found out about the letters last week and that he needs to check with legal counsel about exactly what steps to take.
“We’re going to take the next step that needs to be taken tomorrow,” Hoyt said. “I would have done it today but we were preparing for this and the meeting tomorrow and the meeting today.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.