Last week Garry Bearden, mayor of the city and Democratic Candidate for the District 36 seat in the state House, began posting messages on the marquee at his campaign headquarters – messages accusing two Weaver city councilmen of crimes.
The first message read “Jeff Clendenning Right is right I agree learn the truth I paid for my water.” It was followed by the second message, which read: “Who is Michael Warren Weaver City Councilor He set woman on fire Lighter Fluid & matches he supports Randy Wood”
Bearden has been embroiled in a legal battle with the local Board of Registrars over whether he actually lives in Weaver. State law requires the mayor of a city to be a resident of that city, but Bearden owns several residences in the area – including one in Weaver, and one on Weaver Road in Anniston. Last week, the Weaver City Council voted to hire a lawyer to look into Bearden's residency.
Bearden said the signs have garnered support from some residents.
“Why shouldn’t the people of Weaver know about their leaders?” Bearden said.
Some residents say the signs have caused them to question the mayor’s political decisions.
“That, to me, is the dirtiest politics I’ve seen in quite some time and I’m not the only one who feels that way,” said Jo Heath, a Weaver resident. “I had to turn around in the parking lot and go back and re-read the sign because I couldn’t believe what I was reading.”
The first message drew public criticism at a Weaver city council meeting last Tuesday. About a week later a half-dozen hand-written signs that read “Mr. Mayor should resign” appeared on the side of an abandoned building directly in front of Bearden’s campaign headquarters.
The mayor said his messages were posted in response to the recent inquiry into Bearden’s address. He said he suspects the inquiry is politically motivated and that the residency issue was brought to light now only because it is an election year.
“Am I expected not to respond?” Bearden said. “I chose to respond. I chose not to be handed over.”
Clendenning said at the Tuesday meeting that the mayor’s “paid for my water” sign refers to an instance when a volunteer fire department volunteer said they would fill Clendenning’s new pool while flushing city water lines. Clendenning said he later learned that the action was illegal, and said he paid for the water.
Warren said the sign addressing him was a misrepresentation of the facts. More than a decade ago, Warren pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in an incident from which the story derives.
Bearden claimed to have a court document stating that Warren poured lighter fluid over a woman’s body and set her afire, leaving a burn on her arm.
By Warren’s account, events unfolded very differently.
Warren claims that the victim, who he said was his ex-wife, later recanted the story and attempted to withdraw all charges with the district attorney’s office.
“What I did was quite different than the complaint that was filed,” Warren said.
According to Warren, the pair got in a dispute while separating that was initiated when she stole his clothes and threatened to set them on fire. In response he said he arrived at her home, kicked in her door, grabbed her clothes, doused them with lighter fluid but left before ever sparking a flame.
He said the burns on her arm where chemical in nature and acquired when she tried to pick up the soiled clothing.
“I grabbed some of her clothing and doused it with lighter fluid. That’s as far as it went,” Warren said. “I lost my temper.”
Sitting on his front porch Monday, in view of the Bearden’s sign, Warren said that you can’t let things like that get to you.
“It’s his personality to belittle and embarrass anyone who stands up to him,” Warren said. "I think it’s an embarrassment to the city.”
The question about Bearden’s residency was first raised prior to the mayoral election in 2008. The issue was brought up again earlier this year by Bill Harvey, a Weaver resident.
Harvey, a regular meeting attendee, donated $500 to Bearden’s Republican opponent for the District 35 seat, Randy Wood in March. Harvey maintains that his inquiry into Bearden’s residency was not politically motivated.
The questions about Bearden’s residency have sparked more than heated political signs. They’ve also served as a catalyst for lawsuits and council decisions.
Bearden filed suit in federal earlier this month against the Calhoun County Board of Registrars, which recently changed Bearden’s voting address from his Weaver residence to his Anniston residence. Last week he filed a motion for a jury trial on the same matter in a circuit court.
“My civil rights have been violated,” Bearden said of the board’s action.
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.