City Council member Weston Lindemann is seeking financial support through a GoFundMe appeal for legal action against the City of Meridian's attorneys.
In a 25-page letter shared with other City Council members, Lindemann, who represents Ward 5, criticized the actions of Bill Hammack, Will Simmons and Matt Watson, three attorneys from the Glover, Young, Hammack, Walton and Simmons, PLLC law firm that represents the city.
“Today, my intention moving forward is to take some sort of legal action,” Lindemann told his fellow council members during a Tuesday council meeting.
Lindemann said that the attorneys didn’t follow state statutes with their council interactions and frequently ignored him in the letter as well as in a GoFundMe he established on Feb. 4.
“It has become clear that for some time the city's attorneys have been acting outside their appropriate role – mostly working on behalf of the city administration's narrow interests, and working to obstruct investigative efforts and initiatives that the administration does not support,” Lindemann posted on GoFundMe. “This has left me no choice but to seek appropriate legal action to remedy the situation.”
After filing a request related to the pay of six employees with salaries above paybands in December, Lindemann said Tuesday he realized attorneys were forwarding his emails to Richie McAlister, the city's chief administrative officer, and Mayor Percy Bland.
Additionally, Lindemann said that he had difficulty getting city attorneys to help draft an ordinance that based annual evaluations on the specific duties of an employee.
Lindemann said he requested all communication between Bland's administrative office and city attorneys following this realization.
"The emails obtained reveal the few private interests who have manipulated local government action in their favor, as well as illuminate significant issues related to local government personnel, government contracts, and other activities of questionable legality," Lindemann posted on GoFundMe.
In one April 2018 email, shared by Lindemann, McAlister sent a message to business leaders Archie McDonnell Jr., Rebecca Combs-Dulaney, Bob Luke and Bill Hannah, questioning the development of the Crossroads II shopping center.
"What's (sic) bothers me is I have the perception that this is the increasing of supply while our local demand would stay the same... Examples would be the Walmart on Hwy 10 North killed Winn-Dixie across from Marvins, add a vacant building. Neighborhood Market on 39 killed Winn-Dixie on 39 Bypass, add vacant building. Bonita Lakes Mall kills the Village Fair Mall, add one etc. Gain one to lose one economics," McAlister wrote in the email. "By doing this TIF for Hobby Lobby will the City of Meridian be giving a competitive advantage over the similar product lines already being carried in small radius? I personally believe we would probably lose Kirkland's & Joann's at best, or put Bonita Lakes Mall into a tail spin at worst."
Large portions of the emails had been redacted, with attorneys telling Lindemann they were protecting client-attorney privilege, according to Lindemann.
"I have questions about the attorney-client privilege," Lindemann said. "And it seems clear that an individual council member is entitled to information when requested."
By sharing his emails with Bland and McAlister, Lindemann said he wondered if his own attorney-client privilege had been violated.
City attorneys also advised the administration to process Lindemann's request as a private citizen, not as a city council member, because it was "not an official council investigation," according to Lindemann's letter.
The Glover, Young firm didn't comment on Lindemann's complaints, but said, "The City Council, as a legislative body has the authority, by resolution, to conduct an investigation into anything in the City of Meridian."
Lindemann said a government resource planning system could streamline work order requests from the public by connecting them to the council member and the department head appropriate for their request, or facilitate communication between council members and city employees.
But a request for information on the system came back entirely redacted, as shared in Lindemann's letter.
Lindemann said, through his preliminary investigations, he planned to seek a writ of mandamus, or an order from a judge that the attorneys abide by state statutes. The $10,000 sought through GoFundMe would fund an attorney to draft these actions and Lindemann said he had already consulted with an attorney in Hattiesburg.
"(The GoFundMe) allows supporters to contribute $3, $4 and if I can get 1,000 people... every little bit helps," Lindemann said. "I don't have an exact timeline but sooner rather than later."
The Glover, Young firm declined to comment on Lindemann's complaints, saying "Our professional ethics and our duties to the City of Meridian as city attorneys prohibit us from commenting on Councilman Lindemann's threat to take legal action."
Glover, Young said they had consulted state entities for guidance.
"The resources to which we look as city attorney to guide us are the state ethics commission and the Attorney General's Office," the firm said, collectively, in a Tuesday evening phone call. "We've consulted both of those today."