‘Take immediate action’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Pelham attorney seeks relief from ‘invalid’ commission

By Candace R. Parker/Reporter News Editor

Pelham attorney Harry Lyon is stepping into the County Commission fray.

Lyon has informed the commissioners and county attorney Frank &uot;Butch&uot; Ellis that he will take legal action should a solution not be found during the next four weeks to the illegal nine-member setup.

&uot;If no action is taken by the Shelby County commission toward the adoption or establishing four single member county commission districts by its next two commission meetings, I will be forced to take legal action to ensure that the Shelby County Commission complies with the law,&uot; Lyon wrote in a certified letter to each of the commissioners last week.

The commission became aware of the problem a couple of weeks ago when Ellis informed them about a recent court ruling stating that the consent decree which was issued establishing Shelby County’s nine-member commission would be found illegal should it be tested in court.

The current setup of the commission was determined by consent decree in 1990 with nine commissioners and rotating the chairman either every year or every two years.

Prior to that, Shelby County’s governing body was a four-member commission with the probate judge serving as chairman. Commissioners lived in their districts but ran at large. In 1959, it was amended that the commissioners would run in the districts in which they live.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in May 2002 that the move from a four-member, or four-district, commission was unlawful without a state statute, however, which leaves Shelby County vulnerable.

That ruling has already affected the Baldwin County Commission which was given 14 days to dissolve its current seven-member governing body and submit a plan to revert to the four-member panel in place in 1931.

According to media reports, the Baldwin County Commission had two weeks to re-district into four areas with one commissioner per area who would be elected countywide.

At the time he informed them of the problem, Ellis offered the commission a variety of options for a solution.

&uot;We can stick our heads in the sand, wait and see what happens or we can redistrict based on one-man, one-vote and wait and see,&uot; he told them. &uot;I’m convinced, though, that this lawsuit is coming, and it would be best if we could tell the judge ‘We’re solving this ourselves.’&uot;

But for Lyon, the &uot;fix&uot; to the problem is simple.

&uot;Based on the legal reasoning set forth by the Alabama Supreme Court in the case of Dillard v. Baldwin County Commission &045; there was no legal authority for the Shelby County Commission to adopt a nine-member commission and the adoption of a nine-member commission was invalid,&uot; he wrote.

&uot;Since I am a resident citizen of Shelby County, Alabama, whose voting power has been affected by, an illegal election scheme that was plainly created on or about race, I hereby request that the Shelby County Commission take immediate action to adopt single member districts for four county commissioners.&uot;

Lyon said he expects the commissioners to have a plan that &uot;I feel is workable and expedient&uot; within two meetings (by Monday, Oct. 28) or he plans to file suit.

&uot;I’d like to see the county follow the law, whatever the law is,&uot; he said, &uot;not stubbornly give lip service and try to maintain an illegal nine-member commission.

&uot;I have very little trust in governmental entities,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody is in politics for themselves not for the people. Politics is a very dirty business. That’s why people like me have to step in and do what’s right.&uot;

Lyon said he does not believe the current commission will do what is necessary to comply with the law.

&uot;People in power want to retain power at all costs. This is an issue that must be resolved, and I don’t trust them to do what’s best for Shelby County. But I’m going to make them do it &045; I’m going to shove it right down their throats. That’s all they understand,&uot; he said.

Ellis has met with the commission and offered a solution.

&uot;Any remedy done through the Legislature would probably work,&uot; he said. &uot;If you people and (Probate) Judge (Patricia) Fuhrmeister could come to unanimous agreement on what you want done, I think we could get it through the Legislature.&uot;

The emphasis, he said, is on unanimous.

&uot;That’s the only way we’ll get it passed through our Legislative Delegation.&uot;

Otherwise, Ellis said, the commission will probably be forced by the courts to return to the governing body of 1949.

Each of the commissioners has agreed they believe a nine-member commission is essential to continue to govern Shelby County effectively. Ellis is currently working as a liaison between the commission, the probate judge and the legislative delegation.

County commissioner Lindsey Allison referred questions on Lyon’s demands to the county’s attorney.

&uot;(Lyon), like us, had read the Baldwin County case and realized there was a problem, and there is a problem,&uot; Ellis said. &uot;The commission sees that and realizes that a legislative remedy is the best way to address it.&uot;

Ellis said the return to four districts with the probate judge at the head may eventually be the court-mandated remedy; however, Lyon’s request that it be done immediately was not realistic.

&uot;Legally, it’s not something that can be done in that timeframe (before Oct. 28),&uot; he said