DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – Decatur Mayor Don Kyle is responding to the lawsuit that challenges Decatur’s form of government. He says there are some inaccuracies in how the lawsuit has been covered in the news media. In a referendum back in 2010, Decatur voters approved the change in government. But the city never implemented the change saying it would violate the Voting Rights Act.
“The lawyers for the city have always advised us that the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not allow for the Council-Manager Act of 1982 to be implemented in Decatur,” according to Mayor Kyle.
Kyle says the measure voters approved in a 2010 referendum, that would change Decatur to a council-manager form of government, was specific to that particular act and did not provide for any substitute measures to be implemented.
“The reason for their opinion is that it is geographically and mathematically impossible for one of the three single member districts to have a majority of minority voters. Thus the minority voters in Decatur would likely be denied their right to elect a candidate of their choice which is a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Kyle read from a prepared statement.
But attorney Carl Cole, a former mayoral candidate who is handling the lawsuit, says Alabama law does in fact allow for the city to switch back to the five voting districts and remain in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. He says the city’s position is flawed and the matter appears headed to court.
Cole offered the city two settlement options to do away with the lawsuit. Mayor Kyle says either option would leave the city exposed to further litigation. The mayor also says the lawsuit is already harming the city financially.
The following is the official statement from the City of Decatur regarding the lawsuit:
We want to resolve inaccuracies and provide information that has not been reported by the media regarding the pending Voketz vs. City of Decatur lawsuit. These inaccuracies and lack of full disclosure have created a sense of distrust of your City leaders by some citizens and have been upsetting to many others. We want to assure the citizens of Decatur that your elected officials have simply tried to follow the law regarding the implementation of the Council-Manager Act of 1982, involving the appointment of a City Manager.
- Our City legal advisors have always promptly responded to every communication from Mr. Voketz’s lawyer, including settlement proposals, whether orally or in writing. Anything stated otherwise is either a mistake or an intentional misstatement. For example, in the Decatur Daily article last Wednesday, it stated that the City had not responded to the settlement offer made by attorney Carl Cole in a letter dated June 16, 2014. As Mr. Cole and the reporter for the Decatur Daily knew before that article was published, the City’s lawyer responded by letter dated June 18, 2014, to Mr. Cole.
- In 2010, a majority of those voting in a special election voted to change the form of government for Decatur as provided for in the Council-Manager Act of 1982. That Act requires that there be three Single-Member Council Districts and two Council Members voted on At-Large. The Act also requires that the three districts have as close to the same population as possible. One of the At-Large candidates would run for the position of Mayor and the other would run for a Council position elected by all citizens of Decatur. All five elected officials would function as part of the City Council, with the Mayor presiding over Council meetings.
- Member districts to have a majority of minority voters. Thus, the minority voters in Decatur would likely be denied their right to elect a candidate of their choice, which is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. This legal position and supporting data was filed months ago with the Federal Court in the Voketz case. The City of Decatur has no other agenda or political based reason for not implementing the City Manager law.
- The law is clear that a federal court cannot alter or increase the size of a city council to remedy a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Again, the City’s lawyers have advised us that there can be no settlement that increases or alters the number of council districts from three Single-Member Districts and two council members elected at-large to five Single-Member Districts, plus one person elected at-large to serve as Mayor. If the City did agree to any such proposed settlement, the City would be subject to further new lawsuits even many years later as occurred in a case involving the Baldwin County Commission. Municipalities in the State of Alabama only have the authority to change to a form of government authorized by State Law. They cannot hand pick provisions from more than one statute. The voters chose to implement the Council-Manager Act of 1982. The City must implement that Act and that Act alone if legally possible. In this case, it is not. Therefore, the proposed settlement offers made before neither deliver what the people voted for nor are legally acceptable.
- The Complaint in the pending lawsuit goes beyond seeking to implement the Council-Manager form of government and alleges the governing body is unlawfully exercising their public offices. Mr. Voketz and his lawyer have been informed that their request in the lawsuit to have the current members of the Council and Mayor removed from office does not allow the City to issue bonds for its normal City services, such as the need for a new fire truck, police cars, multiple road projects and for the Sweetwater project.
- Manager Act be implemented in Decatur. Mr. Voketz and his lawyer have refused to remove that request from the lawsuit. Their refusal seriously hinders the City’s ability to provide essential services to its citizens.The removal of Mr. Voketz’s claim that the City’s elected governing body is unlawfully holding public office would be in the best interest of our city and its future and can be removed by Mr. Voketz without hindering his lawsuit pertaining to the Council-Manager Act of 1982. Our City could then carry on with its day-to-day operations and proceed with economic development projects that will allow Decatur to remain competitive and fiscally sound well into the future.
- Because of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and many Federal Courts, the City is not aware of any viable options that will allow it to implement the Council-Manager Act of 1982. No other Alabama Law has been presented that can install a government same as the Council-Manager Act of 1982. The City is prepared to accept the ruling by the Federal Courts of whether the Council-Manager Act of 1982 can be used in Decatur or whether, as applied to Decatur; it violates the Federal Voting Rights Act.
- As stated above, lawyers who are experts in matters involving the Voting Rights Act have consistently advised the City that the three Single-Member District plan violates the Voting Rights Act and likely eliminates the ability of minority voters in Decatur to elect a member of their choice to the City Council. This is not a step the City is willing to take.
- These statements are given for the clarification of the City’s position and to assure the Citizens that we are endeavoring to explore all legal options.
- Any further questions should be referred to our attorneys.