Pelham employees, personnel board members sue city

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Several Pelham city employees recently sued the city, claiming Pelham officials modified the employees’ job descriptions and pay plans without the authorization of the city’s Personnel Board.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Wayne Morse Jr. in Shelby County Circuit Court on Jan. 5 on behalf of appointed Pelham Personnel Board members Jim Collins and James Burks and Pelham city employees Carolyn Mitchell, Tammy Tankersley, Mary Gray, Judy Walters, Allison Miller, Connie Buse and Randy White.

The lawsuit names Pelham Mayor Don Murphy, City Clerk and Finance Director Tom Seale, Human Resources Director Jerry Nolen and Marketing Manager Eva Shepherd as defendants.

The suit claims the defendants “exercised rights unauthorized under the laws of Alabama and the city of Pelham,” and alleges the defendants have “patronized political supporters and benefited friends” instead of following the city’s Personnel Board Act.

“They are not following the Pelham Personnel Act,” Morse said.

The complaint filed by Morse alleges the defendants “usurped the city of Pelham Personnel Board’s powers” then they modified some city employees’ job classifications, job duties and pay plans without first seeking approval of the Personnel Board.

The Personnel Board is composed of three members: one is elected by city employees, one is appointed by the mayor and one is appointed by “mutual consent” of the other two board members, according to Pelham’s website.

The lawsuit also claims the city acted improperly when it passed a new employee pay scale during a special-called meeting in Oct. 6, 2011, which was formulated after a city salary study was completed by the Mercer company.

During the Oct. 6, 2011, meeting Councilman Steve Powell voted against enacting the new pay plan and said the plan conflicted with the city personnel law. During the same meeting, former Councilman Mike Dickens said the new pay plan did “not circumvent any law,” and said the pay plan had been approved by City Attorney Butch Ellis.

On Jan. 20, Ellis said he had not gotten a chance to review a complete copy of the lawsuit, and said the defendants named in the suit had not yet been served.

“It seems to me that the city has done just what it was supposed to do under the Personnel Board Act,” Ellis said. “I don’t see anything obvious that the city has done wrong.”

According to the suit, the plaintiffs are seeking a judgment preventing the defendants from modifying employee classifications, job titles or pay plans without Personnel Board approval, and are asking for the city’s new pay scale to be overturned.

The plaintiffs are also seeking monetary damages “as the court may deem appropriate.”