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Hawkins, city at odds as Talladega College deals with various construction issues

Talladega College sign

TALLADEGA -- Talladega College President Dr. Billy C. Hawkins brought some complaints regarding the municipality’s fire chief to the City Council during a called meeting Wednesday.

Hawkins said he was addressing the council “with a hard heart. I shouldn’t be here. But anyone who chooses to attack my institution attacks me, and I take that personally.”

Hawkins said he was notified by the state Fire Marshal’s Office around 8:15 a.m. Nov. 12 that inspectors were 30 minutes away. 

“They informed my staff that the state had received a complaint, and that they were here to look at all the buildings on campus,” he said. “They went through each one, and they had guns on them, on campus. I didn’t know why they were there.” 

Hawkins said he later learned the source of the complaint was Talladega fire Chief Danny Warwick. Hawkins added he had problems with Warwick’s “backdoor approach” and that Warwick had a “vendetta.” 

“It was not a normal complaint,” Hawkins said.

The state fire inspectors were not able to finish their work in one day and had to return earlier this week. Hawkins said the final report turned up only minor infractions, although the final, written report will not be available until after Thanksgiving, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office in Montgomery.

The college president accused Warwick of driving through campus “taking pictures” daily and not giving him anything in writing regarding a fence across the fire access road at the new student center. He also accused Warwick of carrying a grudge over the closure of part of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which the council recently approved over Warwick’s objection. 

Hawkins additionally said he had spoken with City Manager Beth Cheeks about an electrician who had done work on campus. Hawkins said Cheeks told him the college officials admitted to violating several codes. “I told her to put them in writing,” Hawkins said. 

Cheeks and Warwick should have either come to him directly or brought their complaints to Councilman Dr. Horace Patterson, a college alum and longtime supporter, Hawkins said. 

Hawkins added he had called the mayor’s and governor’s offices when he was told the fire marshals were coming, and pointed out there were buildings near campus that also likely had code violations, and that the school made a $17 million economic impact to the city.

Warwick, addressing the same meeting, said the school had been made aware that it could not close off the fire access lane, and that the gate across the access road needed to be open at all times. 

The chief said Hawkins has his cell number (which Hawkins denied), and that he would gladly drop whatever he was doing if Hawkins called. When there did not seem to be any progress on the gate issue, Warwick said he called in the state for a third party review. There was never a complaint of any sort, the chief said. 

“Any time there is an issue, we can call on the fire marshall to help us resolve it,” he said. Warwick said his only concern was the safety of the people on campus.

Warwick added he lived near the campus and drove through it every day to get home.

The council eventually appointed a committee consisting of Hawkins, two of his vice presidents, Patterson, Warwick, Assistant Chief Ron Goodenough, Councilman Joe Power and Cheeks to help settle issues between the Fire Department and the college. The first meeting of this committee was supposed to be sometime this week but was later cancelled, Warwick said.

Not the first time

Wednesday night was not the first time Hawkins and a city employee have found themselves at loggerheads. 

As Hawkins alluded to Wednesday, he had written members of the council individually to complain that the city building inspector had reported to the state licensing board that an electrician doing work on campus was not licensed. 

The building inspector reported the electrical contractor, as required by law, according to the inspector and to Cheeks. Cheeks explained that the inspector had a legal obligation to do so and could have been violating the law himself by turning a blind eye.

Because Hawkins’ letter was addressed to individual members of the council and not the council as a whole, a copy of it has not been made public.

According to court documents, the electrician was not the only unlicensed contractor who did work on campus. 

A lawsuit filed by the college in September says SSJ Development Company of Georgia entered into a contract to do roofing work on several buildings on campus late last year, with both sides agreeing to a $185,000 contract. 

According to the suit, the college only recently became aware that the roofer’s contractor’s license had expired in Georgia, and that he had never been licensed in the state of Alabama. The suit also alleges the contractor sent an invoice for an additional $51,000 after the work set out in the contract was complete. 

The college alleges breach of contract, misrepresentation and fraud, bad faith, deceit and defamation, and asks for $70,000 damages.

The college’s suit alleges the contractor billed the college for work not done, and that the contractor misrepresented himself by claiming to be licensed and to obtain any other necessary licenses before the work was done.

The last count alleges the contractor has “defamed the college by spreading false and declamatory statements … maliciously, knowing them to be false and they were an unprivileged publication to a third party.”

In an affidavit also filed with the court, the contractor demands the college take the dispute to binding arbitration as required by the contract. He added the college held the contract for six days to review it before it signed, and the only modification made to it was to require that insurance payments go to the college, not the contractor.

The case file shows that the contractor has a pending motion before Talladega County Circuit Judge Will Hollingsworth to compel binding arbitration. A hearing on that motion is set for next month.

Court documents also show the college filing suit against a contractor who was hired to lay tile in the bathrooms in the museum building on campus. The college won this suit by default when the defendant did not appear in court and was awarded $37,000. There is no indication that the contractor in this case was unlicensed, however.

Another issue

Earlier this month, the college was also notified by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that an inspection revealed property off West Battle Street was “an unauthorized solid waste dump, (and that) the college is responsible” for it. 

“Unauthorized dumps are prohibited and must be closed in a manner determined to be necessary by the department,” according to a letter from ADEM delivered to the college Nov. 2. 

“On Oct. 8, department personnel observed approximately 175 cubic yards of household construction and demolition waste dumped on the site. The site does not meet the minimum requirements of a landfill and is not permitted as a landfill by the department. Therefore, the area on the site where the regulated solid waste has been disposed is an unauthorized dump.”

The letter orders the college to cease the operation of unauthorized landfill and remove all solid waste from the site within 30 days. Documentation of the removal must be submitted to ADEM in 45 days. It was not immediately clear Friday if the college had responded to the letter.