Colony Town Council holds organizational meeting in absence of new mayor

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Council members (left to right) Ethel Alexander, Jasmine Cole, Samuel Ashford and Eric Carwell, along with Town Clerk Patricia Ponder, go on with Colony’s organizational meeting Monday morning. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

COLONY, Ala. – Colony’s new administration has gotten off to a rocky start, even before its officials were sworn in for the new term, and Monday’s organizational meeting, required on the first Monday of November after the municipal election, continued the trend.

On Friday, Oct. 30, Mayor-Elect and Councilman Curtis Johnson delivered to Town Clerk Patricia Ponder a letter thanking her for her service to the Town but adding, “Effective, November 1, 2020 at 11:59 pm your services as Town Clerk for the Town of Colony will no longer be needed.”

According to the Alabama Municipal Clerk’s Manual, “A clerk serves until a successor is elected and qualified.” In light of that instruction and the lack of selection of a new clerk so far, Ponder remained at her post Monday morning as council members and Johnson arrived at Colony Town Hall.

Johnson went to the Cullman County Courthouse early Monday morning to be sworn in, and reportedly contacted other council members Sunday evening, telling them to do the same. Council members Ethel Alexander, Jasmine Cole, Samuel Ashford and Eric Carwell came to Colony Town Hall instead, to be sworn in by the still-acting town clerk. New Councilwoman Mary Louise Parker, Johnson’s sister, was absent; it is not currently known if she was sworn in at the courthouse.

According to multiple witnesses, when Johnson and his wife arrived, he told Ponder that she should not be there and that he would have Cullman County Sheriff’s Office deputies remove her. After he was presented the statement from the clerk’s manual, and was informed that council members had reached out to the Alabama League of Municipalities for legal advice, Johnson said that the organizational meeting was postponed, saying, “We’re going to have to work this out,” then he and his wife left.

Remaining at town hall were Ponder, along with returning council members Alexander and Ashford, and new members Carwell and Cole. With the four council members in attendance being sufficient to establish a quorum, according to those present, the required meeting went on as planned, minus the new mayor and Parker.

The council voted: 

  • 3-1 to name Alexander Mayor Pro Tem; Cole voted against the motion
  • unanimously to maintain its current meeting schedule on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month
  • unanimously to adopt its regular rules of procedure, based on Robert’s Rules of Order
  • unanimously to keep both Town employees- Ponder as Clerk and maintenance worker Ronnie Barfield- in their positions temporarily 
  • unanimously to keep council seat committee assignments the same
  • 3-1 to retain the present depositories for municipal funds, and retain Alexander and Carwell as authorized check signers in addition to Johnson; Cole voted against the motion

 

The check-writing issue has been a sticking point for several recent council meetings under former Mayor Donnis Leeth. The mayor and one other authorized person must co-sign each check from any Town account, and due to reported difficulties in getting Johnson to come to town hall and sign checks, the council voted several weeks ago to authorize Alexander and Carwell. Johnson voted against the motion, though it passed anyway. 

Johnson, as incoming mayor and already an authorized check signer, had to go to the bank and sign paperwork there to add the two other council members, but to date has failed to do so, according to Ponder.

Johnson’s reported failure to file the necessary bank paperwork to add the extra check signers leaves the Town with only one authorized signer. Since the Town’s accounts require co-signing of checks, Colony currently cannot issue checks to pay employees or pay its bills. According to Mayor Pro Tem Alexander, the council has reached out to the League of Municipalities and, on that organization’s advice, is considering asking a court to issue a Writ of Mandamus against Johnson.

A Writ of Mandamus is defined by the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute as “an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.”

Johnson left the meeting before The Tribune arrived and was unavailable for comment. His response will be published when available.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com