Councilmen say they learned of insurance only in 2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &045; Three councilmen say they first learned in September, 2006, about the city paying for the mayor’s health insurance through BlueCross/BlueShield, despite the city’s Water Board learning of the premium payments as early the summer of 2005.

According to city records, Mayor Cecil Williamson wrote two checks totaling $15,300 to the city as reimbursement for her insurance. A city receipt register shows the checks were received on Sept. 29, 2006, and were both in the amount of $7,650.

Three members of the council say they first learned of the mayor receiving benefits paid for by public funds just days before she reimbursed the city. Councilmen Jack Cooley, Melvin Yelverton and Thomas Moore all said they learned of the insurance payments near the end of September.

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Councilman Charles Jones refused to comment on when he first learned of the insurance payments. Councilman Woody Collins could not be reached for comment. His office said on Friday that he would be out of town until today.

The minutes from the June 6, 2005, Water Board show the city requested a reimbursement from the board. The reimbursement was in the amount of $7,464 and was to cover the previous 12 months worth of insurance premiums made by the city for the mayor. The Water Board, which is a separate governing board from the council, sets part of the mayor’s compensation since the mayor acts as superintendent of the Water Board. Collins is the only member of the city council who sits on the board.

Neither Cooley nor Yelverton said they knew whether or not Collins was aware of the premiums being paid by the city before September. Collins said last week that the premiums came to light while an outside accounting firm completed the city’s annual audit for the Fiscal Year ending in 2005.

Cooley said that on the day after he learned about the insurance premiums he met with City Attorney Rick Manley. The meeting, Cooley said, took place on a Friday. Neither Yelverton nor Moore could say exactly when they learned of it, though Yelverton said he was pretty certain that the entire council learned about it on the same day.

Cooley said he met with Manley to find out what the council needed to do in light of the discovery of the payments. It was after this meeting, Cooley said, that Manley instructed the council that they were bound by law to notify the Ethics Commission and the district attorney.

Manley sent a letter to the Ethics Commission on Oct. 6, 2006, notifying them of the alleged impropriety. The city received a letter dated Oct. 12, 2006, from the Ethics Commission saying that the repayment of funds would suffice and that they found no cause for further action.

Upon hearing of the Ethics Commission’s decision to rule without launching an investigation, Cooley said the council decided to meet with the district attorney and the mayor to determine further action.

Cooley, Yelverton and Moore said the council met with the mayor and the district attorney in November, 2006. Cooley, who was allegedly the only councilman absent from the meeting, said he was at a medical appointment in Tuscaloosa and was unable to attend the meeting but that he had already told other council members that he &8220;would be in agreement with whatever the council decided as a whole&8221;.

During the meeting, the council allegedly agreed to have the Ethics Commission reopen the issue and conduct a complete investigation into the matter. At that time, the council and the mayor said they would live with the findings of the Ethics Commission, Cooley said. Cooley said the investigation had to be conducted and findings reported to the district attorney by the time the grand jury convened.

Cooley said District Attorney Greg Griggers sent a letter to the Ethics Commission asking them to reopen the case. However, Griggers said Monday that he never formally requested the Ethics Commission to do so.

Griggers confirmed last week that all five councilmen asked that he seek indictments against the mayor. A meeting between the district attorney and four members of the council allegedly took place on Friday, Feb. 2, the week before the grand jury convened on Feb. 5.

Yelverton said he was not present at that meeting, an absence Cooley said was attributed to work. Cooley, Moore and Griggers all three said that the district attorney met with the four remaining councilmen at the same time.

Last week, Jones said he had not heard anything about the indictments since an October meeting, during which he said Griggers was present. When asked about the Feb. 2 meeting, Jones would not confirm or deny his presence.

Cooley said that during the Feb. 2 meeting the council expressed their &8220;disappointment in the Ethics Commission&8221; and its refusal to properly investigate the insurance payments. It was at that time the council asked Griggers to petition the grand jury to indict the mayor, Cooley said.

The grand jury last Wednesday indicted Williamson on two felony theft charges. She turned herself in to Marengo County Sheriff Jesse Langley last Thursday. She was released on $2,000 bond.

The mayor said she will follow the advice of her council and not comment on the matter.

Managing Editor Gennie Phillips contributed to this report.