Charges dismissed against former Mayor Hattie Edwards Eutaw City Council debates National Guard Armory rental policies and local legislation to change appointments to Housing Authority

Hattie EdwardsFormer Mayor Hattie Edwards (center in purple skirt) surrounded by supporters at the end of hearing dismissing charges against her. L to R are supporters: Debbie Duncan, Spiver Gordon, Wade McFarland, Sheila H. Smith and Lorenzo French.

 

At a special session of the Eutaw City Court, Judge William “Nick” Underwood dismissed all charges against former Mayor Hattie Edwards of Eutaw. Edwards was charged with “interfering in the activities of the police” during the last municipal election. Edwards asserted that she was just doing her job as Mayor and supervisor of all city employees including the police.
Attorney Nathan Watkins Jr. of Livingston, who was serving as City Prosecutor, moved to dismiss the charges against Edwards. This was based on an agreement with Hank Sanders, attorney for Edwards, that the charges were not valid. City Judge Underwood then dismissed the charges against Edwards and also the charges that she had made against police officers for harassing her.

“ I am pleased that this is over and I was completely relieved of any charges for just doing my job as Mayor.” Said Edwards.

City Council report

At their regular meeting on April 25, 2017, the Eutaw City Council reviewed and agreed upon amended policies for use of the National Guard Armory and City Park for organizations and fundraising activities. There will be a $250 fee for use of the National Guard Armory for all organizations that are not non-profit, and do not have a valid IRS 501 c.3 tax exempt designation.
There will be a $125 fee for organizations with the proper designation and paperwork certifying that they are IRS 501 c.3. The IRS 501 c.3 letter must be attached to the organization’s rental agreement application to receive the reduced rental rate. No non-profit organization is allowed to use another organization’s IRS 501 c.3 designation letter to hold an event at reduced charge. Families using the facility for a funeral repast will not be charged a fee.
All functions must have bonded security or off duty police officers. The City Chief of Police will verify the legality of the security being provided. Teen dances will be allowed to go until 12:30 AM on Friday and Saturday nights, however, they must follow the same security procedures as other organizations.
Roebuck Landing personal were present at the meeting requesting use of the City Park on May 13, 2017 for a crawfish boil. City Councilperson LaTasha Johnson requested a $1,000 fee for use of the park, which was reduced to $500 by vote of the City Council. Tickets to the event will be sold at $20.
Council Joe Lee Powell said, “We are setting these policies so we can generate income to maintain and repair city properties, like the Armory, for comfortable use by our citizens for many years to come.”
The City Council approved publication of a ‘Bill to be Entitled to increase the number of Commissioners on the Eutaw Housing Authority and provide for their terms of office and vacancies.” This proposed local legislation is currently running in the Legal Notices section of the Greene County Democrat for the four weeks required. This bill will be presented to our legislators for passage in the current session of the Alabama Legislature.
The proposal, introduced by Councilwoman Latasha Johnson would increase the number of Commissioners on the Eutaw Housing Authority from five to seven. Five members would be appointed, one by each Council member, and two at-large members appointed by the Mayor. Currently the Mayor appoints all five Commissioners, subject to approval by the City Council.
Mayor Raymond Steele opposed this proposal saying it would challenge and restrict his legal power to appoint members of the Eutaw Housing Authority. The Council at the meeting on April 11, 2017 supported the proposal 4 to 2. Mayor Steele refused to sign the certificate of publication of this local bill in the newspapers. The City Council authorized Mayor Pro Tem, Sheila H. Smith, to sign the certification to allow the newspapers to publish the proposal.
This action comes in the midst of a dispute between the Mayor and the City Council about appointments in the Eutaw Housing Authority and an effort to merge the City and Greene County Housing Authorities.

Eutaw City Council continues discussion of Housing Authority appointments, water and street improvements

Benison & Chief

Officer Jimmie Benison and Police Chief Derick Coleman

 

At its March 14, 2017 meeting, the Eutaw City Council reaffirmed the appointment of three members: Jackie Allen (resident representative replacing LaTasha Johnson), Bertha Hunter and Mary Wray to the Eutaw Housing Authority.
Mayor Raymond Steele says he is following the statutes of Alabama, which empower the Mayor to name members of the Housing Authority Board of Directors, communicate his selections to the Council and have the notification recorded in the minutes.
Steele says he appointed new members to replace those appointed by former Mayor Hattie Edwards because her appointments were made in the waning days of her term and never recorded in the city council’s minutes. Due to a lack of a quorum, the last council meeting of Edwards’s term, near the end of October 2016 was never held, so her appointments were never officially recorded in the minutes.
The composition of the Eutaw Housing Authority Board is important to the continuing negotiations over merging the Eutaw and County Housing Authority boards and staffs which has been mandated by HUD, which funds both authorities.
Mayor Steele contends that since all of the public housing units are now in the city of Eutaw, that under the law he has sole discretion to appoint members of the merged authority. The Greene County Commission disputes this and wants an amalgamated board with appointments by both the city and the county. The districts of three of the Commissioners, Districts 1, 2 and 3, have constituents within the city of Eutaw.

Other municipalities within Greene County – Forkland, Boligee and Union are also interested in public housing development and desire consideration by the merged housing authority board. Mayor Steele says these towns can contract with the merged board for support and development of units if they have suitable land with the required water and sewer services.
The Eutaw City Council has through its Attorney, Ken Aycock, requested a State Attorney General’s opinion on the laws governing housing authorities and the selection of board members for the merged entity.
The Council also approved a motion suggested by Councilman Joe L. Powell that the Council not incurs any legal costs for defending its member selections to the Eutaw Housing Authority Board until the Attorney General’s opinion is received and permission is granted by the Council to pursue legal actions. This motion was approved over the Mayor’s objections.
Mayor Steele also gave a report on projects underway in the city. He stated that the water project was moving forward with installation of the new lines on Mesopotamia Street; a six inch water line will be extended to the Lock 7 Road; and work on constructing a new tank to replace the one behind City Hall, will begin soon. Soft wear to read new digital self-reporting water meters has been purchased and the installation of these new meters is among the remaining work to be done to complete the USDA sponsored water improvement project.
Steele also said work was done to patch roads in Branch Heights but the full repair and resurfacing of those roads would cost $1.8 million. He said he was working with grant writers to seek funding for this work from ALDOT and the Delta Regional Authority. He also said that the Prairie Avenue Project was almost complete with the exception of striping for parking.
After the Mayor’s report, several Council members advanced road and drainage projects in their districts, which needed immediate attention. The Council approved the payment of bills and claims for the month of February.
Police Chief, Derick Coleman, introduced Jimmie Benison, former Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy as a new police officer on the city police force.