Council approves historical commission members’ removal

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO – The Montevallo City Council voted to sustain the removal of two Montevallo Historic Preservation Commission members during a regular meeting March 11.

A motion to sustain the mayor’s administrative action of removing Janice Seaman from all city-related boards and commissions (the Industrial Development Board, Historic Preservation Commission and Design Review Committee) passed in a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Rusty Nix casting the only vote against the motion. Seaman had previously served as the HPC chairperson.

Likewise, a motion to sustain the mayor’s administrative action of removing Sherry Vallides from the Historic Preservation Commission also passed in a 5-1 vote, with Nix voting against the motion.

The decisions came after a discussion among council members and citizen comments.

“People are put on boards for experience and knowledge,” Nix said. “I think that Janice and Sherry are probably the two most knowledgeable people and, I’ll say, close to … the city for historic restoration of homes, and it all boils down to the Mahler House. Just because somebody doesn’t like an opinion that somebody else gives, you’ve got to come to an agreement and make it work. If you hand-pick boards, all you’re going to have is a ‘yes’ board for what you want. I hope the council takes that in consideration.”

Mayor Hollie Cost said she did not take lightly the decision to remove the HPC members.

“This was much bigger and broader than a difference of opinion,” Cost said. “We’ve tried and tried and tried to move forward in a positive manner. Obviously, this is 100-percent uncomfortable for everybody in this room.”

“I have read through the law and contacted the League of Municipalities,” Councilman Jason Peterson said. “Everybody says the mayor has the authority to do this. I think that’s all it comes down to.”

Councilman Matt Walker said he agreed with Peterson, and said to Seaman and Vallides, “I do appreciate the contributions you have both made to the commission.”

During the work session, Owens reiterated points he had included in a letter to the council that Cost read aloud in the Feb. 11 City Council meeting.

The letter included sections of the city ordinance detailing the historical commission’s formation as an organization consisting of seven members, all Montevallo residents, nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council to serve three-year terms.

“The City Ordinance that established the Commission is silent on the subject of removal from office,” the letter read in part. “Code of Alabama section 11-68-3(d) provides that members of the commission may be removed for cause by the City Council. Accordingly, the general law of Alabama applies. As such, acting as Mayor, you have the authority to temporarily remove for cause any city official appointed by the City Council to a department, board, committee or commission created by the council, subject to council approval.”

Owens said the council has the authority to weigh in on the issue since the historical commission was established by the council.

“I think it’s been handled correctly, but I think to put your seal of approval on it, it needs to come to a vote tonight,” Owens said.

During opportunities for citizens to speak to the council, and before the council voted on the removal of Seaman and Vallides, Montevallo resident Nancy Wilstach addressed Councilwoman Tiffany Bunt and Walker regarding the motions to remove their respective constituents, Seaman and Vallides, from the historical commission.

“Before you act, you might want to consider what the state code says about such matters,” Wilstach said. “Alabama Code Title 11 contains the enabling legislation for the creation of municipal historic preservation commissions, and it addresses how a member’s service may be terminated prior to the expiration of his or her term. Allow me to quote that clause: ‘Members of the commission may be removed for cause by the legislative body of the municipality creating the commission.’ Now, my legal dictionary tells us the meaning of ‘for cause’ as follows: ‘Of an action, such as the termination of a contract or a relationship of employment, that it is based on a breach, misfeasance or other inappropriate action of the other party.’

“Thus, Ms. Bunt and Mr. Walker, you must bear the burden if you fail to defend your constituents’ good names and proceed to vote in favor of placing a blight on their character as would be attached to removal for cause when in fact there is no cause involved here other than whimsey,” Wilstach said. “Please consider well and long your decision before besmirching the reputations of these two women who have given this city nothing but loyal, honest and dedicated service.”

After the meeting, Seaman said she had done nothing wrong.

“I’m not even clear with why I’m being fired,” Seaman said. “I feel like I’ve been very slandered. I’ve only tried to serve the city and board as set out in the ordinance.”

The council also approved on March 11 the confirmation that the historical commission’s current membership includes Bill Glosson, Melinda Nix, Kenny Dukes, H.G. McGaughy, Daisy Washington and Joyce Jones, leaving one vacancy the City Council will have to fill.

The council had approved Feb. 11 to appoint Washington and Jones to the HPC board to fill two vacancies from former board member Susan Godwin, who was appointed to the Design Review Committee Board in January, and Seaman.

The historical commission was unable to conduct business during its regular meeting March 5 because of a lack of a quorum, except for a roughly 10-minute period during a presentation by Montevallo Historical Marker Project Coalition co-leaders Kathy King, Paul Mahaffey and Sierra Turner.

The next regularly scheduled HPC meeting is April 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Parnell Memorial Library.

In other business, Walker said the city’s Finance Committee is submitting comments to City Clerk Herman Lehman to compile regarding the Mahler House MOA, in preparation for negotiations to start.

“The house is a great gift, and we want to do everything we can to preserve it,” Cost said. “We’re looking forward to moving forward on this.”

The council also authorized the mayor to enter into a contract with TurnerBatson as architects for the old Victory Property, of which the city’s purchase was finalized in February.