Commission accused of violating open meetings, competitive bid laws

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Chilton County man has filed a lawsuit against the Chilton County Commission alleging commissioners violated Alabama’s open meetings and competitive bid laws.

Plaintiff Roy Burnett, who identifies himself as a “taxpayer and resident of Chilton County” filed the lawsuit Sept. 25 in state court against the county and commission, claiming the leaders held two illegal meetings in which they voted to implement courthouse security and violated the state’s competitive bid law.

The lawsuit also claims that during a regularly scheduled commission meeting July 14, the commission entered into executive session to discuss security and failed “to notify the Chilton County Sheriff of the executive session despite the fact that they had previously assigned him the responsibility for courthouse security.”

Burnett said commissioners failed to notify Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis but notified and invited John Shearon, the Republican candidate running for the office of sheriff in the upcoming General Election who attended the executive session.

The lawsuit states “Terry Wilson, the Democrat candidate for the office of sheriff in the same election was directed to leave and was not permitted to attend the executive session…”

“Eddie Price, the Independent candidate for the office of sheriff in the same election was not notified of the meeting or the proposed executive session.”

At the end of the executive session, the county commission resumed its regularly scheduled meeting and adopted a resolution authorizing Chilton County Commission Chairman Allen Caton, who is a defendant in the case, to “implement a plan for courthouse security” that authorized him to spend $14,999 to implement the plan.

Anything above $15,000 requires a bid, as stated in the lawsuit.

A reporter with The Clanton Advertiser was present during the July 14 meeting where law enforcement representatives from the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department and several municipalities, judges and county prosecutors were some of the individuals asked to stay in the executive session.

Sheriff Kevin Davis was not present at the July 14 meeting.

On Aug. 13, Burnett claims the commission “illegally convened” a special meeting without providing notice of the meeting, and passed a resolution contracting with the city of Clanton to provide security at the courthouse.

During the same meeting Burnett alleges commissioners adopted a resolution “taking away” the appointment of the current sheriff, as head of security over the courthouse and annex buildings, the lawsuit states.

Burnett claims the individuals who have been provided by the city are not “sworn and certified law enforcement officers,” and have been “performing security at the courthouse” without a signed contract between the county and city, which is required by state law.

“Instead of conducting a discussion of courthouse security with the chief law enforcement officer of Chilton County, the defendants discussed courthouse security with the Republican candidate for sheriff, an individual with no authority to perform any act on behalf of the county, the commission or the sheriff,” Burnett said. “Alabama law does not authorize a governmental body to conduct an executive session to discuss courthouse security with mere candidates for elected office.”

The lawsuit goes on to say that “Alabama law does not authorize executive sessions for the purpose of deliberating how to circumvent the competitive bid law.”

At the end of the lawsuit, Burnett asks the court to declare the contract between the commission and the city of Clanton void, as well as force defendants to comply with the Alabama Open Meetings Law and the Alabama Competitive Bid Law.

On Wednesday, Chilton County Attorney John Hollis Jackson said in an e-mail that he could not comment on pending litigation, but that he was aware of the lawsuit.

Caton also declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Burnett is represented by attorneys Jeffrey Sewell and French McMillan, of Sewell and Sewell LLC in Jasper.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Burnett, 79, said he filed the lawsuit to try to help prevent Chilton County politics from turning into Jefferson County politics.

“I live in this county, I was born in this county, and I am just tired of it,” Burnett said. “I retired from Jefferson County in 2004, and I want good government. I don’t want to see this county turn into Jefferson County.”

When asked if Burnett had a motive for filing the lawsuit a month before the General Election, Burnett said he has “no political agenda.”

Burnett also said he has not campaigned for or donated to anyone involved in the local sheriff’s race.

“If you notice, I filed the lawsuit in September,” Burnett said. “It is very easy to do things right, and I want to see our elected officials start complying with the law.”