As the members of the Bayou la Batre City Council walked into their chambers for a regular meeting this evening, all but one of them were served with subpoenas — the result of a civil lawsuit brought against each of them individually by Mayor Brett Dungan.
According to court records, Dungan named council members Annette Johnson, Kimberlyn Barbour, George Ramirez and Austin Collier in the lawsuit, for several actions the council took during a March 12 meeting, including but not limited to the termination of Dungan’s former assistant Wanda Overstreet.
At the time, Dungan audibly warned the councilors that their “actions would have consequences.” Johnson meanwhile, told Dungan to “bring it on.” In response to today’s subpoenas, Johnson said Dungan “had bitten off more than he could chew.”
At its core, Dungan’s lawsuit is challenging the legality of several motions Johnson added to the regular agenda at the end of that very heated meeting March 12.Her motions included decisions to “remove the mayor’s authority to sign contracts on the behalf on [sic] the city, remove the mayor as a signatory on all of the city’s financial accounts and to remove Wanda Overstreet as the mayor’s secretary, cancel her contract with the city in 30 days and to transfer (her) to the Bayou la Batre Tourism Center for the remainder of her employment.”
According to court records, Overstreet in fact returned to work at Bayou la Batre City Hall at the request of the mayor the day after the meeting in which she was transferred. Consistent with widespread rumors from the incident, the complaint says Johnson also ordered Overstreet to the leave the office and even requested she be arrested for “insubordination.”
According to an amended complaint, Police Chief Cliff Adams didn’t follow through with the arrest. However, Overstreet’s employment was subsequently terminated with “just cause” before the remainder of that 30-day period.
In the documents, Dungan’s attorney suggests the termination of Overstreet’s contract was a violation of Alabama Code 11-43-81. As mayor, his legal counsel interprets the law to mean that only Dungan has the general supervision and control over the city’s employees. Citing the above rule, the complaint says only “the mayor shall have the power to appoint all officers whose appointment is not otherwise provided for by law,” which would include Overstreet’s previous position.
Dungan is also challenging the very addition of the aforementioned items to the agenda March 12. Paraphrasing Alabama Code 11-45-2(b), the complaint states that “no ordinance or resolution intended to be of permanent operation shall be adopted by the council at the same meeting at which it is introduced, unless unanimous consent of those present is given for the immediate consideration of such ordinance or resolution.”
According to the complaint, because Johnson introduced numerous resolutions that were not on the agenda without unanimous consent, those additions violated state law and would therefore be void.
Councilwoman Ida Male Coleman, who has consistently supported Dungan’s position over the past few months, was the only dissenting vote on all of the motions questioned in the lawsuit. Coleman was subsequently stripped of her financial power by the other councilmembers for approving expenses submitted by Dungan that are believed to be under investigation by the Mobile County District Attorney’s office.
The complaint seeks the court to “declare all resolutions and ordinances passed by defendants void” and also aims to have the recent appointment of Jay Ross as the city’s attorney voided under state law as well. Ross was the city attorney under the previous administration of Stan Wright, but was dismissed by Dungan in favor of Bill Wasden.
In addition, the complaint said Dungan should be granted “any different or additional relief to which he is entitled to.”
Because they were only served with the lawsuits today, city councilors weren’t willing to comment on the matter, and because they were named as defendants in their individual capacity for actions they took as a body, it’s unclear at this time how they’ll be represented or how a legal defense will be funded.
According to the court documents, Dungan is being represented by Michael Hickman who is a former Assistant District Attorney for Mobile County.