Montevallo requests guidance from Attorney General

Does a recently passed legislative act let the University of Montevallo off the hook from meeting the fire and life safety codes of the city of Montevallo?

Also, since passage of the act, what are the duties of the Montevallo Fire Department with regard to fire prevention and other services at UM?

The city of Montevallo has requested an Attorney General’s opinion that would give the city &uot;authoritative guidance&uot; on how best to comply with the legislative act &uot;before an emergency arises.&uot;

At a recent meeting, the Montevallo City Council

unanimously approved a resolution requesting the opinion from Attorney General Bill Pryor. Council member Stann Garris was absent.

As a result of the legislative act, the university is no longer inspected for fire safety by the city of Montevallo.

A dispute between the city and the university over possible fire code violations led to the state allowing the university to be inspected by the state Fire Marshal instead.

Stephen Sears, city attorney for Montevallo, first asked for an Attorney General’s opinion by letter on behalf of the mayor and City Council last month.

However, he reported to the council on Aug. 12 that the Attorney General requires a formal resolution from the mayor and council before issuing an opinion.

Joy Patterson, a spokesperson for Pryor’s office, called the requirement standard procedure.

The city’s resolution to seek an opinion states that &uot;the Montevallo Fire Department needs to know with precision what its duties are.&uot;

According to Sears and members of the city council, certain portions of the act seem to contradict other portions.

The act states: &uot;The state Fire Marshal shall have exclusive authority to enforce laws, regulations, and ordinances of the state… at the University of Montevallo.&uot;

However, it also states: &uot;This section may not be construed to change the responsibility of the regularly established municipal fire authority to provide fire suppression services on the same basis to all institutions, businesses and residences within the incorporated limits of the applicable municipality.&uot;

Questions raised by Sears include: &uot;Is the city inspector still authorized to enforce city ordinances on campus? Act 2002:513 refers to ‘laws, regulations, and ordinances of the state’ &045; city ordinances are not mentioned.&uot;

He continued, &uot;Is the University of Montevallo still covered by city, state and federal outdoor burning rules? A few brush burns on campus have been reported since its passage, and the city has taken no action on them.

&uot;If the university and city inspector had reached an agreement regarding a timetable for coming into compliance with various city fire and life safety codes, is this ‘contract’ affected by Act 20O2:513?

&uot;How are campus fire drills, pre-fire planning and practice fire department walk-throughs affected?

&uot;Did Act 2002:513 comply with the technical requirements for legislation? It appears to be a bill of attainder and an unadvertised local law. Although it purports to be of statewide application, it only really affects Montevallo.

&uot;Within Montevallo, its direct effect is limited to one person, Mike Reid the city inspector.&uot;

Sears said a comment to the media by one of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. E.B. McClain, seemed to indicate the legislative intent was to limit Reid’s authority and pursue a &uot;vendetta against him.&uot;

He also called attention to the fact that an act cannot apply to one city.

The act came about after Reid told UM officials they must correct several fire code violations following a routine inspection in October 2001.

He said eight dormitories on campus needed extensive work to meet the city’s current fire codes. Among necessary corrections, Reid cited improvement to a fire lane for Peck Hall, repair to the stairwell in Tutwiler Hall, window replacement or repair at Napier Hall and correction to unsafe exits at several dormitories.

After the corrections were not addressed, Reid sent a letter to the state Fire Marshall informing him of the violations.

University President Robert McChesney said in June, the university objected to the city’s request because many of the buildings in question are historical. He noted that they were built under a more lenient code and should not be held to current codes, which would require extensive renovations, for which the university lacks adequate funding.

McChesney and Frank C. &uot;Butch&uot; Ellis Jr., chairman of the UM board of trustees, next contacted state senators McLain and Rodger Smitherman to draw a bill in the state legislature. The bill they requested placed exclusive responsibility for fire inspections at UM under the state Fire Marshal.

The act passed both houses of the Alabama Legislature unanimously on April 26 and was signed into law by the governor soon afterward.

Montevallo officials have said they felt university leaders are trying to avoid correcting violations.

McChesney has said state universities have not been provided the financial resources to regularly do renovations but stated he felt all 3,000 students on campus are in &uot;safe buildings.&uot;