Agenda stymies council meeting

Published 6:38 pm Friday, May 4, 2012

Thursday night’s Demopolis City Council meeting opened with a sequence that quickly became heated as the group struggled to reach an agreement on the session’s agenda.

Councilman Mitchell Congress requested the addition of three agenda items including the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department’s upcoming open house and the League of Municipalities conference later this month.

After Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson stated his belief that the items in question were not suitable discussion points for the city council, Congress motioned to add the topics to the agenda. The motion stalemated at 3-3 with favorable votes from Congress, Melvin Yelverton and Thomas Moore while Grayson, Jack Cooley and Bill Meador opposed the measure.

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Following the failed motion, the group voted on whether or not to approve the agenda. That motion also stalemated at 3-3 with the same parties remaining firmly entrenched on their respective sides.

“Well, if we don’t have an agenda, then we’re just wasting our time,” Grayson stated following the second failed vote.

The statement prompted a motion to adjourn from Congress, a suggestion that died without a second.

What ensued was a discussion in which Congress stated his displeasure with the management of the council agenda, the change in policy regarding reimbursement of council travel expenses and the removal of the council discussion segment that was once a permanent fixture on the agenda.

Congress was adamant in his stance that the council discussion should be added back to the agenda as he claimed Grayson had no right to remove it considering the council never voted for such a measure.

“If it is not added back, I will take whatever necessary steps,” Congress said. “Even if it takes litigation.”

“The reason (council discussion was removed from the agenda) is that there are some items brought up that are for personal edification,” Grayson said, pointing to his belief that much of the discussion that took place in the defunct sessions had little to do with city council business.

“You have muzzled this council,” Congress later stated, voicing his frustrations toward Grayson. “I should not have to have your permission to put something on the agenda.”

Congress continued to state his concerns regarding the council’s travel policy in view of the upcoming League of Municipalities conference and the funds earmarked for the DFRD’s open house.

“Let me just say, when I have a problem, I will speak for myself,” Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department Chief Ronnie Few inserted, a statement meant to exonerate himself from any association with the ongoing discussion.

“You’re not really asking about the League of Municipalities,” Grayson asked Congress. “You’re asking about travel policies. Is that right?”

The discussion finally resulted in the approval of an amended agenda 17 minutes after the meeting began when Meador motioned that the topic of council travel be added to the docket.

Once the council proceeded through the agenda, it approved a pair of public assemblies; one for Relay for Life and the other for a May 19 Fun Run to be hosted by Fairhaven Baptist Church.

When the issue of city council travel resurfaced, the crux of the discussion focused on whether or not it would be prudent to revert to the former system in which the city clerk held the responsibility of making hotel reservations and paying for lodging and registration fees whenever a councilman traveled on city business.

“I have a problem with the city being a travel agency,” Grayson said.

After several minutes of discussion and two rescinded motions, Yelverton ultimately suggested that travel, hotel and registration fees be paid for by the city in advance of a given trip. The motion passed 4-2 with Grayson and Meador as the dissenting votes.

The final actionable item on the part of the council came when it closed nominations for the expired Demopolis City Schools Board of Education seat currently held by Bobby Armstead.

Grayson nominated Conrad Murdock while Moore backed Fred Armstead Jr. and Congress submitted Delores Cunningham for consideration. The council is scheduled to vote on the seat as its May 17 meeting.