Sax in the City – 4/25/2013 (gallery)

A crowd of well over 100 gathered at Confederate Park in downtown Demopolis, Alabama for Sax in the City.  It was a beautiful afternoon for the event.  Demopolis natives Charlie Wilson (Tuscaloosa) and Mel Knapp (Orange Beach) entertained the crowd of all ages with music spanning several decades.

City deserves more than shenanigans

Shenanigans:  secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering. Shenanigans:  the word best suited to characterize the exploits of the most talked about and, arguably, most dysfunctional city council in Demopolis history.

Thursday night, Councilman Jack Cooley introduced discussion regarding the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education seat currently held by Bobby Armstead, whose second appointment to the board has been expired for months. The understanding of the council as of its June 21 meeting was that the issue would be tabled until a consensus of some sort could be reached.

For months, the council had deadlocked at 3-3 over whether to appoint Conrad Murdock or Freddie Armstead Jr. to the seat. Rather than belabor the point further, it was tabled indefinitely.

Thursday, the first meeting after this current conglomeration of councilmen officially became a “lame duck” entity, Cooley saw an opening with the absence of Melvin Yelverton and raised the issue. Shenanigans.

Sensing he and Thomas Moore, who have both long been firmly entrenched in the pro Freddie Armstead Jr. camp, would be force fed a board member they did not want, Mitchell Congress objected to the council bringing up the issue in Yelverton’s absence.

Congress knew that without Yelverton, Murdock would win the appointment because Cooley, Mayor Mike Grayson and Councilman Bill Meador would vote in favor of Murdock.

So Congress rightly called to everyone’s attention that this process had always seen the council do nominations at one meeting and vote at another. The intention of that pattern was to properly study and vet the nominees. But the pattern persisted over the course of the late spring and the entirety of the summer despite the fact that the council had “vetted” Murdock and Armstead Jr. ad nauseam.

Congress also rightly recalled that at a previous meeting he motioned the council proceed with nominations and voting in the same night. He wrongly recalled that Grayson denied his request.

The truth is that Congress made that motion June 21. And Grayson deferred to the pleasure of the council. The council left Congress’ motion hanging and it died with no second.

Thursday night, three of the five council members in the room were eager to vote on the issue. Shenanigans.

So Moore and Congress offered up the ultimate power play. The got up from the table and walked away. That took the council’s quorum away. That rendered any business conducted after their walkout completely void. And it kept the embarrassing saga of the board of education seat on the agenda for at least a little while longer.

Were Congress and Moore within their right to walk out? Absolutely. But what was it? Shenanigans.

And, while two wrongs certainly do not make a right, the council members who remained for the duration of Thursday night’s meeting learned firsthand about forcing the council’s hand in the absence of one of its members.

Aug. 18, 2011. Cooley was not at that meeting. But he remembers that date. Why? Shenanigans.

At that time, the city council had long been deadlocked 3-3 on a vote over whether or not to approve the renovation of Fire Station No. 2. The renovation in question was a key component holding up the city budget and was no small matter in that it called for something in the neighborhood of $750,000.

When the council reached that portion of the agenda, Grayson requested it not vote on the matter in Cooley’s absence.

Congress unceremoniously ignored Grayson’s request to table the vote, himself motioning to approve $750,000 for the building and furnishing of Fire Station No. 2. Moore seconded the motion. Congress, Moore and Yelverton each voted in favor of the measure. Shenanigans.

It took him more than a year, but Cooley appeared to finally find a way to gain some measure of perceived retribution for the shenanigans that took place in his absence last August. He offered his own shenanigans. And Moore and Congress walked away, taking the cards out of everyone’s hands.

There have probably been days where Grayson and Meador felt they should have walked away during that meeting in August 2011.

Now, all the city can hope is that the councilmen that will take over in November are eager to avoid the childish antics of their predecessors. Whether well intentioned or otherwise, we have all seen enough shenanigans to last our city for quite some time.

Hopefully, the incoming councilmen will have the wherewithal to work together, compromise and keep sitting at the table no matter the outcome of the vote.

Demopolis deserves its elected officials to do what is best for the city itself rather than focusing on how to hoodwink three men with a dissenting opinion.

And if we cannot get that out of all six of our city councilmen, it is probably better that they all just walk away.

Murdock appointment will not stand

The ongoing saga of Bobby Armstead’s expired seat on the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education will continue for at least a little longer.

It appeared resolution had been reached Thursday night when Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson along with councilmen Jack Cooley and Bill Meador voted to appoint Conrad Murdock to the BOE. The vote came in the absence of councilman Melvin Yelverton and in the wake of the departures of councilmen Thomas Moore and Mitchell Congress, who walked out of the meeting in protest of the vote.

Laurie Lein, general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, informed The Watchman Friday morning that the 3-0 vote to put Murdock on the board of education would not stand.

“In the absence of a quorum in the room where a vote takes place, I think that calls into question the vote because you need a quorum to conduct business and that takes four warm bodies in the room,” Lein said.

“We lost a quorum after the walkout,” Grayson said after speaking with Lein Friday.

Moore and Congress walked out in protest of the vote based upon their feelings that their counterparts on the council were trying to appoint Murdock to the board while they had the votes to do so.

Grayson admitted he was surprised when the issue came up during Thursday’s council meeting, but said he voted in favor of Murdock’s appointment based on loyalty to the man he recruited into the process.

“I feel loyalty to Conrad Murdock. He has stuck through this process,” Grayson, who is adamant that Murdock would be an asset to the board of education, said. “No one can tell me what is wrong with Conrad Murdock other than he works at Rock Tenn. That’s it in a nutshell.”

For months, the council had been deadlocked over the board appointment with Yelverton, Moore and Congress voting in favor of Freddie Armstead Jr. and Grayson, Cooley and Meador supporting Murdock.

After the issue came back up Thursday, Congress expressed his desire for the council to wait until Yelverton was in attendance before proceeding with a vote on the board of education matter, citing the council’s history of nominating potential appointees in one meeting and voting on them in the next.

After being told that both nominees had already been vetted, Congress withdrew his nomination of Armstead and submitted Lester Mitchell for consideration.

“The other guy that Mitchell nominated as a stalling tactic, Lester Mitchell, is a fine man. Freddie Armstead Jr. is a fine man. But we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t have some compromise,” Grayson said.

The scene that played out was largely reminiscent of an August 2011 session when Congress, Moore and Yelverton opted to vote on the hotly-contested issue of the renovation of Fire Station No. 2 during a meeting Cooley could not attend. The power play broke a longstanding deadlock and forced the passage of the vote.

When similar tactics were employed Thursday, Congress and Moore walked out of the meeting, leaving the remaining council members unable to legally take action on any issue.

According to Lein, the departures of Moore and Congress combined with the absence of Yelverton left the city council with no quorum, rendering it incapable of doing city business.

“They didn’t have a quorum at that time then. Generally I’d probably say in a situation like that, the presiding officer should announce whether they were leaving to go to the restroom or leaving leaving,” Lein said. “They probably shouldn’t be taking votes at all, whether they take a restroom break or they are leaving leaving, unless a quorum is present.”

Grayson expressed his exasparation regarding the council Friday morning.

“This council has been a great disappointment to me,” Grayson said.

As for what happens with the board of education vote, Grayson said he is hopeful the issue will be turned over to the incoming city council that will take office in November.

“My opinion is to let’s let the new council deal with it because I’m thinking that the positions are too firmly entrenched with these guys as is evidenced by last night,” Grayson said. “We had other business to attend to and (Congress and Moore) chose to take the easy way out. There were other points of business that we needed to address, probably the biggest of which is, the new budget, which I guess we are going to have to throw over to the new council as well.”

Check westalabamawatchman.com for further updates as they become available.

City elections give hope for progress

Change. Probably the most common word thrown about in the weeks leading up to the municipal elections in Demopolis, change is what occurred Tuesday evening.

Whether or not that change is good and just how much of an impact it will have has yet to be seen. And there are as many opinions on the matter as there were voters.

The city did not get wholesale changes. Mike Grayson retained his mayoral office while Mitchell Congress kept his seat at the head of District 2. Couple that with the fact that incumbent Bill Meador ran unopposed in District 4 and you have half of the city’s governing body returning.

But there are three fresh faces that will take their seat at the council table. Charles Jones Jr. will represent District 1, D. Harris Nelson will sit atop District 3 and Cleveland Cole will represent District 4.

It is impossible to predict exactly what the next four years will hold for the six men that lead the council. Will their administration be considered an abject failure? Will they make the progress for which many have been clamoring?

The one thing that is almost for certain is the city should finally have some fresh ideas. The newly-elected individuals all seem eager to sit down and do what is best for the city. And, the idea of doing what is best for the city seems to have been a foreign concept for the last several months.

It will be refreshing to see what someone as young and as enthusiastic as D. Harris Nelson can bring to the table. It will be nice to see someone as level headed as Charles Jones Jr. helping to make decisions to improve the city.

And it will be nice to Mike Grayson get some vigor back in his vision. Grayson has not been a perfect mayor during his first term, but he has presented great ideas and helped to lay out plans that would prove good for the city long term. But, personal agendas began to trump the city’s agenda. Good ideas grew stale and were tabled indefinitely and we came to a virtual standstill as a city.

Maybe now, Grayson can succeed or fail of his own volition and the new city council can learn lessons from its predecessor. Egos and personal agendas have no place on the city agenda. If our new council can agree on that, we can finally get somewhere as a community.