By Monday May 27, Meridian’s Mayor and City Council were all aware of the resignation of their long serving law firm Glover, Young, Hammack, Walton & Simmons, PLLC, on June 30, 2019 via a letter dated May 23, 2019 from Bill Hammack. On that same day, May 23, Bob Luke, the local architect and the city’s Master Planner filed a complaint for a protective order in Chancery Court against the city, to prevent the city from releasing public records requested through the Freedom of Information Act. There are two lawsuits against the city by former city employees and more than 30 current and former employees have been identified that would testify that Mayor Percy Bland’s administration has created a hostile work environment.
In addition, damaging testimony about the mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Ritchie McAlister, was provided at a Public Hearing on June 4 by a 17-year employee who served for 10 years as president of the Employee Council. Kevin Locke arrived at the lectern with a 5-inch thick stack of manila folders. As he began opening the first one he stated, “I am a former member of the planning division and as a planner we 'document.' " He then proceeded for 50 minutes to allege one example after another of illegal, unethical and unprofessional practices of the mayor and his CAO, which he said were contributing to the hostile work environment. They included: 1) potential obstructions of justice by coaching employees to lie to investigators; 2) many cases of exploiting loopholes in Civil Service rules to award favored but unqualified or less qualified persons high paying positions, versus highly qualified ones; 3) one case involving Locke, himself, where they devised a scheme to marginalize him with a false embezzlement case; 4) only one person left in what was a five-person planning department. And those were just for starters.
Notwithstanding all these issues, to avoid a collapse of the city’s governing capability, one matter needs to be addressed immediately. Now that Meridian’s attorneys have resigned, effectively giving only 30 days notice after 18 years of very profitable representation, The Glover Walton et al firm should present the mayor a written offer to continue representing the city during the new attorney recruiting/selection process, the mayor should agree to accept their offer, and the council should approve it.
Any idea that an attorney firm of five, 10, or one attorney could be identified, interviewed, selected and nominated by the mayor in an HONEST PROCESS after doing his due diligence, propose him/her/they to the city council, after which the council could then interview, do its due diligence, and then vote on its new legal representation in a 30-day period, especially when there are so many problems with the city’s current governance, is totally absurd on its face. And that doesn’t even speak to the hundred or more normal but required matters for municipalities and Meridian specific each year, many in progress and many others needing to be identified. All of these issues would require time for any new firm to assimilate, even with nearly “on call” assistance by the former attorneys, to achieve an acceptable transition. And even with considerable “professional courtesy” throughout the first year, can that be achieved without the city having to suffer double billing costs?
In Mr. Hammack’s resignation letter he stated he and the firm had failed in two areas, 1) in avoiding the perception of conflicting loyalties between the administration and the city council, “the two branches of government”, and 2) in convincing them “the value of cooperation as a means of achieving the common good.” He also states they were unsuccessful “in changing the current dynamic” of “acrimony, pettiness and immaturity” that presently permeates what should be professional deliberations producing these “recent unfortunate times.”
The chutzpah! During the past year I attended almost every public city council meeting held, including the work sessions and budget sessions. I witnessed, no less than 10 instances in which one of the firm’s attorneys publicly challenged Councilman Weston Lindemann. I also saw that on at least two of those that Mr. Lindemann was right and the challenging attorney was proven wrong when Lindemann quoted the confirming language from the relevant controlling document. In that entire year there was not one single instance of any similar behavior toward the mayor or his CAO. Even without the now public email communications, obtained through legal public records requests, any semi-perceptive observer could see the obvious “conflicting loyalties” bias toward the administration.
As a former employer of as many as 200 people at same time for many years, I can assure you that the citizens of Meridian are not getting the services their taxes are paying for if only half of the instances Mr. Locke identified are true. And “documenters” are most often at least 90 percent correct when they bring the evidence with them. Poor employee morale and incompetence from unqualified department and project managers will guarantee poor service at best, or no service at all.
Tommy Williams is a resident of Marion. He is acting director of Lauderdale County Citizens For Responsible Governance. Call him at 601-479-5110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.