Anniston City Councilman Ben Little at a meeting Tuesday once again questioned the outcome of a vote earlier in the month on his request to open a council inquiry.
On Oct. 3, Anniston council members voted on Little’s request to open an inquiry into allegations he’s leveled at council members Millie Harris and Jay Jenkins.
Mayor Jack Draper ruled at that meeting that, although it was a 2-1 vote to approve, the motion failed to pass because he said the law requires a majority vote of all council members present. Two council members — Harris and Jenkins — were present but abstained from voting. Draper voted against Little’s request while Little and Councilman David Reddick voted yes.
“I think the motion did pass,” Little said during Tuesday’s work session, prior to the council’s regular meeting held afterward.
Little alleges wrongdoing connected to Jenkins’ architecture firm’s previous work for the city, which are the same allegations made several times in years past, and for which Jenkins sought and received prior clearance from the Alabama Ethics Commission.
Little also alleges wrongdoing involving a loan program by a board separate from the city several years ago that approved a payment to Harris’ husband’s company.
The company in 2015 was awarded a $26,000 reimbursement from the Anniston Downtown Development Authority for work the company paid to renovate a downtown building at 1118 Noble St. City officials told The Star in 2015 that the board that approved the funds is a separate entity from the City Council, that Braxton Harris’ application into the program was handled just as all applications were, and that there was no misuse of city funds.
“The dilemma that Councilman Reddick and I have is we’re not attorneys. We have to find attorneys,” Little said. “We’re going to get things done in Ward 3 ... or this whole doggone city is going to be locked up ... It’s going to be a rough time tonight. I know it already.”
Sam Gaston, Mountain Brook’s city manager, past president of the International City/County Management Association and Anniston’s city planner from 1987 until 1992, told The Star in a message Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the vote to open an inquiry, as described to him by a reporter Tuesday, would pass. He wrote that it would have taken a majority of all members present to pass, not just those who voted.
Anniston city attorney Bruce Downey in a message to The Star prior to Tuesday’s meeting wrote that he reads the state’s law to say that “if only three members are present, then an affirmative vote of two members is necessary and sufficient. Of course, if all five members are present, then an affirmative vote of three members is required.”
“I do believe that a council member is present for purposes of establishing a quorum unless he or she recuses (or is not physically present), as opposed to merely abstaining from the vote,” Downey wrote. “By abstaining, the council member is declining to take a position for or against a measure, but is still present.”
Attempts to reach attorneys with the Alabama League of Municipalities on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Prior to discussing the inquiry vote, council members debated refinancing old city bonds in a discussion that led to a council member using an expletive during the work session. Two visiting employees from a finance company were in attendance at the work session, as were several other guests.
Cory Salley, interim city manager, said that last year the city refinanced some of the bonds used to build the Justin Sollohub Justice Center, which saved the city about $650,000. He said refinancing the remaining bonds could save more than $300,000 this year.
Reddick questioned the benefit of the city’s previous refinancing, in which he said the city chose to take a lump sum payment and pay the same monthly amount on those bonds, rather than reduce those payments over time and take no money up front.
“It don’t … matter” Reddick said, also using a vulgar word starting with the letter F referring to sexual intercourse. He said the council would vote to approve the refinancing whether he agreed with it or not.
“You three whites got the vote. Go do it,” Little said, adding that he wasn’t told the refinancing was going to be discussed Tuesday. The topic was listed on the work session’s agenda, however.
“But we’re adversarial, and all of this,” Reddick said, appearing to refer to himself and Little.
“It would appear that way,” Draper said.
Anniston resident Larry Thomas told council members during the public comments portion of the meeting that he’s been reading things on social media and that “every disagreement is not about race. Every disagreement is not a black and white issue ... it’s going to take everyone sitting here to come together as one and make this thing work.”
Thomas, who is black, said “we look at you as leaders, to make the right decisions, not to divide us ... People are watching.” He said the racial-division discussion among council members is making its way back to Anniston school children.
During the councilmember comments portion of the meeting Little said, “I keep hearing people come up here and talk about ‘we can all get along.’ Stop talking about getting along.
“When Councilman Reddick and I discuss things, we’re discussing things going on in our community,” Little said. “It’s sin and corruption ... Anniston is probably about the number one corrupt city.”
In other business, council members:
— Named Dr. Arthur Toole as member emeritus to the Longleaf Botanical Gardens Board.
— Approved reimbursement of $84.72 to a city employee for travel expenses.
— Agreed that Anniston will participate in the state’s sales tax holiday for severe weather preparedness items. The sales tax holiday begins Feb. 23 and ends Feb. 25.
— Reappointed Susan Gibbins and Sarah Sloan to the Longleaf Botanical Gardens Board.
— Amended the city’s zoning ordinance to permit personal care homes to locate in the city’s suburban neighborhood 1 zones. Salley said personal care homes have six or more occupants and care for older residents.
— Approved a special events retail alcohol license for the Fat Tire Festival. The Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association is to repay the city for the cost of Anniston City Meeting Center staff, who will sell the alcohol during the event.