Decatur City Council discusses limiting mayor’s power to settle lawsuits during ongoing litigation involving 3M

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DECATUR, Ala. — The City of Decatur has been embroiled in two legal battles for years, involving Morgan county, Decatur Utilities and chemical manufacturing giant 3M.

Tuesday, city council members met with attorneys in the litigation during a closed door meeting, but before that, they discussed the idea of removing some of the mayor’s power in settling legal matters on the city’s behalf.

The council is expected to address the issue next week by modifying an ordinance originally passed in 1998. The ordinance allows the mayor to settle workers compensation, personal injury and property damage claims against the city without without approval from the council. 

Council President Paige Bibbee says in 2009, a ordinance was brought forward to create a settlement limit of $50,000, but it failed in a council vote.

Council member Charles Kirby, says the council is discussing setting a limit on the amount the mayor can settle a claim without the council’s consent. During Tuesday’s meeting they discussed both a $50,000 or a $100,000 limit per claimant.

“If someone is suing the city for $25,000 and we can get away from months of court litigation, we don’t mind a mayor signing off on that, but if it gets into millions of dollars it’s going to be viewed differently,” said Kirby.

Council members say they would like to exclude workers compensation claims from this ordinance. They also say they would like to be notified about lawsuits settled by the mayor.

The council then moved behind closed doors to discuss lawsuits involving 3M, but one of the major parties suing the city and 3M, Tennessee RiverKeeper, said it was not present.

“Tennessee RiverKeeper will make plans to meet with the Decatur City Council soon. Tennessee RiverKeeper has been informed that attorneys for the city of Decatur have claimed that the organization is close to reaching a settlement in our PFAS chemical pollution lawsuit. That is not accurate, said David Whiteside, Tennessee RiverKeeper co-founder.

The City of Decatur is in an unusual position. It’s a co-defendant with 3M in lawsuits filed by property owners and environmentalists, but council members have also said they want to see cleanup of 3M chemicals on Decatur properties.

Kirby says testing for chemicals was discussed in the meeting Tuesday, as well as a plan on how to address contamination that could be found in the future. He also says he wishes there was more transparency in this matter.

“I feel better about this. I felt if our process had been transparent in earlier year we might have been at this stage or better by now,” Kirby said.

While the council soon could be voting to take away some of the mayor’s powers, no one will say how long it could take to resolve these lawsuits.

WHNT News 19 asked the city’s legal representative in the 3M litigation for comment on what was discussed Tuesday. Barney Lovelace, an attorney representing the City of Decatur in the 3M lawsuits, said they could not disclose anything about the meeting and referred us to a statement he sent WHNT last week about the ongoing legal battle.

Last week, Lovelace issued a statement addressing the litigation, and some city council members calls for Decatur to take action over the contamination and efforts to protect the government from liability if there are any PFAS laws or regulations developed.

“On behalf of the City, County and DU we are pursuing claims in that mediation which relate to the Decatur-Morgan County Regional Landfill, expenses incurred by DU relating to PFAS, the presence of PFAS at three former closed landfills located at what is now the Aquadome site, on Deer Springs Road and Old Moulton Road, and to provide for the protection of these governmental entities in the future from any new regulations or laws relating to PFAS,” the statement reads in part. “Although we recognize the complexity in these cases, we also wish that these cases could have been resolved sooner. However, the claims and issues in these cases are much more complicated than simply involving the purchase of a closed school like Brookhaven.”

The statement also indicates the city is considering action against 3M.

“In mediation, by Order of the Courts, all actions in these cases are stayed (put on hold) pending further Order of those Courts,” the statement says. “So, we are barred by Court Orders at this time to pursue claims in Court against 3M until allowed to do so by the Courts.”

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