Sparks fly during Decatur City Council vote to limit mayor’s power to settle lawsuits

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DECATUR, Ala. – As the City of Decatur navigates ongoing litigation involving chemical manufacturing giant 3M, the city council voted Monday to limit the mayor’s authority to settle lawsuits against the city.

“I, for the life of me, cannot understand what in the world y’all are trying to do as far as amending this code, this ordinance,” Mayor Tab Bowling said in Monday’s meeting.

Sparks flew in Decatur as the city council discussed limiting the mayor’s power to approve lawsuit settlements without the council’s approval.

“Especially considering four of the five council members are pretty much lame ducks and will not see another opportunity to serve this city for four more years,” Bowling told council members.

Bowling made digs about the upcoming election in August and accused the council of not being able to get things done.

The council also expressed their concerns about how lawsuits could be settled without their knowledge.

“It’s our fiduciary responsibility to answer to the people who hired us, and that would be the public, and its their dollars, and I happen to agree 100 percent, this is their money. They have a right to know where the money goes,” said Paige Bibbee, City Council President.

The ordinance passed 4-0, requiring settlement proposals totaling more than $25,000  to come before the council.

“Today might have been an example of a good picture as to why maybe we need to have five members involved in settlements instead of one,” said Councilor Billie Jackson, District one.

The city is a co-defendant with 3M in two lawsuits against Decatur. A similar ordinance to limit the mayor’s authority to settle was brought before the council in 2009 and failed.

Jackson spearheaded the ordinance. He did not speak directly about  pending 3M litigation, but he did say he wanted to ensure that the council was involved in ongoing lawsuits the city is facing.

“We have settlements and litigation going on now and I just think it’s important that we as a city conduct business in a way that is going to put the weight on the council moreso than the mayor in this particular regard, and that we can do settlements that are going to be conducive to and align with where they should be,” Jackson said.

After the vote, WHNT asked Mayor Bowling how the measure would affect ongoing lawsuits. He brought up 3M, saying anything significant would be communicated to the council, even if the new ordinance had not been passed.

“That’s going to be brought before the council. If its anything of any kind of significance, we’re going to communicate with the council, especially the new council,” he said.

All city council seats and the mayor’s office are on the ballot in August. Bowling expressed frustration that his power was being limited by the council.

“I think it’s something they need to realize whenever they’re making decisions of this nature, that they’re lame duck. We’re talking just a few electric bills till things change. And the electric bills come fast at my house,” Mayor Bowling said.

“The mayor conducted himself today in a way that was beneath the office of mayor,” said Jackson after the council meeting had adjourned.

Bowling told WHNT he would veto the measure. According to city code, the council needs a two-thirds vote to override a veto. Monday’s vote was unanimous, which would be a veto-proof majority.

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