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Treasurer sues as Selma government power struggle continues

November 22, 2018

SELMA, Ala. (AP) — The treasurer of a city in Alabama’s Black Belt is suing to be reinstated to her position, even as city officials continue to wrangle with a budget crisis that sparked 68 layoffs.

News outlets report Selma Treasurer Ronita Wade, placed on leave three times since 2017 by Mayor Darrio Melton, sued Melton and the Selma City Council on Tuesday in Dallas County Circuit Court demanding reinstatement.

Melton placed Wade on leave for the third time on Sept. 26, the same day the city’s budget was supposed to be passed. He said it was because she was under investigation for criminal misconduct, but Wade said she knew of no such investigation.

The Selma City Council has twice reinstated Wade, part of a power struggle over who will appoint department heads and control city spending. Earlier this month, Wade asked the council to reinstate her a third time, but the lawsuit says council members deferred the matter to an attorney citing the repeated suspensions. Wade wants a judge to reinstate her and block Melton from suspending her again.

Melton has said Selma is broke and must cut spending or raise new revenue. On Wednesday, he attacked a City Council proposal to divert $400,000 earmarked for schools to reinstate laid-off employees.

“If laying off over 60 city employees and reducing public service in their unbalanced budget wasn’t enough, they have stooped to an all-time low, targeting our children,” Melton said in a Wednesday news release. “They cannot balance the budget on the back of our children.”

A share of a city sales tax, now about $400,000, was earmarked for education spending in 1982. Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams said Wednesday that no one has contacted her about the subsidy. She said she hopes to meet with city officials next week.

In an email sent to council members, Wade’s attorney Julian McPhillips claimed three city employees whose positions were eliminated by the council are still being paid by the city. McPhillips said the payments are illegal and must be stopped immediately.

Kenneth Mendelsohn, Melton’s lawyer, said the council can’t legally eliminate positions appointed by the mayor, and that’s why those employees are still being paid.

The council earlier voted to remove Melton’s ability to appoint Selma’s police chief, fire chief and tax collector. Melton sued, claiming the council can’t strip that power from him.

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