Lawsuit claims Dickens was illegally appointed court administrator

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A Birmingham attorney recently filed an amended lawsuit on behalf of several Pelham city employees, claiming the former City Council president’s appointment as Pelham’s municipal court administrator was “invalid under Alabama law.”

Attorney Wayne Morse Jr. filed the amended lawsuit in the Shelby County Circuit Court three weeks after filing the original suit, which claimed Pelham officials modified city employees’ job descriptions and pay plans without the authorization of the city’s Personnel Board.

On Jan. 5, Morse Jr. filed the original lawsuit Shelby County Circuit Court 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 amended lawsuit added city employees Justin Martin, Dale Bailey, James Coggeshall, David McCall and Cynthia McCall.

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.

On Dec. 30, 2011, former councilman Mike Dickens resigned his council seat to become the city’s municipal court administrator. The move came about a month after Dickens resigned from his position as council president.

The lawsuit claims the city violated the Pelham civil service law handbook when it appointed Dickens as court administrator, and claims the appointment was done without the approval of the city Personnel Board.

The suit claims Dickens before Oct. 5, 2011 “added the position of the municipal court administrator” to a new employee pay plan, which was enacted by the council during a special-called meeting on Oct. 6, 2011.

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, Dickens said the new pay plan did “not circumvent any law,” and said the pay plan had been approved by City Attorney Butch Ellis.

The amended lawsuit also claims the city allegedly sought to “circumvent the competitive bid law” when purchasing dining room chairs by breaking down the cost of the chairs into multiple purchase orders.

The original lawsuit, which Morse filed Jan. 5, 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.

Ellis said on Jan. 27 he had not yet gotten a chance to review the amended lawsuit in-depth, but said he did not think the city had broken any laws.

“At this point, I don’t see anything the city is doing wrong,” Ellis said Jan. 27. “If anything needs to be changed or tweaked, it looks like very minor things.”