The city of Bayou la Batre filed a response last week to the city’s utilities board, which sought an injunction in May to block the appointment of Jeffrey Ladnier, a move board President Sylvia Raley said was done while attorneys for both groups were working out a dispute over the terms of service.
“The utilities board’s claim is without fact,” said Mayor Brett Dungan. “There’s not a factual basis for the injunction they’ve applied for.”
The City Council approved Ladnier to replace Louis Hard based on terms outlined in a series of Water and Sewer Revenue Refunding Bonds issued by the board itself in 2013.
According to those bonds, the current terms would expire as follows:
• Louis Hard: April 30, 2014
• George Ramirez: Sept. 30, 2014
• Kimberlyn Barbour: Sept. 30, 2014
• Sylvia Raley: April 30, 2016
• Debra Marchand: Sept. 30, 2016
Raley said there was a “clerical mistake” in the bonds and the board has since contested their validity.
According to Raley, the board’s attorney, Jay Ross, went through the utilities board’s records dating back to 1997 to come up with the terms listed above.
“Even going back that far, it still showed three board members coming off in one year, which we knew wasn’t correct,” she said. “We tried to backtrack through all of the records, but we asked the city for the records and were refused.”
According to state law, utility board members are supposed to serve for terms of two, four and six years respectively to prevent an administration from taking over the board politically.
Yet throughout the years, some members of utilities board have served repeat two-and-four-year terms, making the exact expiration of the current board members’ terms difficult to determine.
In its original complaint, the board called Ladnier’s appointment unconstitutional and requested the court prevent any new board members from being appointed by the city until accurate terms limits are established and agreed upon.
“As the appointing authority, (the city) has the right to make appointments to the BLBUB and such action constitutes an executive function of a municipal corporation that is not reviewable by the courts,” the city’s response reads.
According to court filings, bylaws established the utilities board in 1958 and created a board of three members. According to Alabama Code 11-50-342, which the lawsuit draws heavily from, a council “may increase the board from three to five members.”
“The city and the utility board have both agreed on how the people over the last 30 years have treated these appointments. It’s just totally bizarre,” Dungan said. “We’ve found where the bylaws were changed to allow five members on the board years after there were already five members serving on the board.”
The council approved the additional two board members in 1969, according to the city’s legal response, but the bylaws weren’t updated to reflect the change until 1986.
The city’s response claims the board’s operations have been “plagued with misunderstanding of the applicable laws” governing its own composition.
Raley said the terms of utility board appointments have been “messed up since day one.”
“For them to use (the terms) they have right now, they could take over the board this year and the law is set up where they should not be able,” she said.
That is why the city’s response is seeking “declaration(s) of the correct terms of service for each of the five places and the city’s right to appoint board members and correct errors in the terms of service.”
In addition, the city is asking the court to validate its appointment of Ladnier and requesting that the utilities board pay all costs associated with the lawsuit.
“Denying (Ladnier) calls into question all of the actions and votes taken by the BLBUB since April 17, 2014,” the response reads. “Without an injunction, the board will continue to operate without authority and in violation of the appropriate terms.”
In its final pages, the city asks that the court issue an order preventing the board from interfering with future appointments due to the threat of “irreparable and ongoing damage.”
“They’re not acting in accordance (with) their own bylaws,” Dungan said. “It’s a very convoluted mess, which should be worked out. The city appointed Jeffery Ladnier to take effect May 1, and there’s not a factual basis for anything other than that.”