The Bayou la Batre City Council voted to terminate City Clerk Jaime Abastoflor during a special meeting called on Thursday afternoon in the midst of an ongoing feud between the council and Mayor Brett Dungan.
Abastoflor has been at center of the financial questions that have caused an increasing tension among city officials. Those issues appear to have started in December 2014 when Abastoflor and Dungan sought and received a $50,000 loan in the city’s name without notifying the City Council first.
Since then, Dungan has filed a civil suit against four members of the council and Dungan has been arrested for harassing Councilwoman Annette Johnson.The meeting on Thursday was held at 2 p.m. and a reporter from Lagniappe was unable to attend. However, after the meeting Johnson said Abastoflor was terminated because of concerns with “proper accountability.”
“The improper reconciliation of the Katrina Fund Account and the co-mingling of funds just to name a few,” she said. “Also, there has been issues with informing the council of debts and contractual agreements in a timely manner.”
Johnson said Abastoflor was still under a probationary period, and the council voted to release him for “just cause.” However, Abastoflor will still have an opportunity to address the issue with the Mobile County Personnel Board, if he so chooses.
Dungan wasn’t able to reached following the meeting, but his attorney, Michael Hickman, was able to give a brief statement on the matter over the phone.
“I think Mrs. Johnson has again overstepped her authority from a procedural standpoint,” Hickman said. “Mrs. Abastoflor may be subject to the personnel board’s regulations.”
Hickman said he could provide more insight once he had time to review the applicable law.
Abastoflor’s termination is one of several staffing changes that has occurred since things between the mayor and council turned sour in early March. Dungan’s assistant, Wanda Overstreet, and city attorney Bill Wasden have already been released form their duties — two of the council’s actions Dungan is challenging in his civil suit.
Abastoflor’s assistant, Chad Seaman, resigned suddenly in December near or about the time financial questions started circling Bayou la Batre. He has only recently been replaced and is said to be “an option” to replace Abastoflor in the meantime.
However, that’s only if the mayor and council can agree to it. Johnson said another option would be to utilize a payroll company on a contract basis.
Despite the personnel shakeups and staffing shortages, Johnson said she met with several city employees after the meeting to reassure them during ongoing political situation in the Bayou.
“Our ultimate goal is to secure our municipal government in a responsible manner,” she said. “At the end of the day, that is the job our citizens have elected us to do.”
The Council has regular meeting next week, and is expected to address this and other issues.