A member of the Grand Bay Fire District’s Board of Trustees made good on a threat to sue his fellow board members this week — filing a complaint in Mobile County Circuit Court.
Joe Dozier, who was certified as a board member in March, filed suit on Tuesday, alleging the GBFD prevented him from reviewing financial information regarding the board’s income and expenditures on multiple occasions.
“Various reasons for not being able to produce financial records have been stated to ‘Joe,’ including that the bank records were eaten by rats and the computer on which they were kept had crashed,” the complaint reads.
Tony Baggett, president of the GBFD, said several people have requested all of the receipts and balances from 2011, but Dozier isn’t one of them.
“I don’t think Joe has turned in the official paperwork to see the records, and I’m not aware of him wanting to,” Baggett said. “Everybody is saying, ‘there’s something wrong and we think somebody stole some money or sold a truck.’ I wish they would just come out and say that instead of ‘I’d like to see a whole year of everything.’”
Baggett said he’s currently preparing a packet of all of the district’s bank statements, deposits and revenues from government taxes for 2011 — a packet he plans to share with those who have made requests and Lagniappe in the near future.
Baggett also claims Dozier hasn’t been to a meeting in five months.
“It’s hard to do business when people get on the board and don’t participate,” he said. “Why did he get on the board if he’s not going to represent the people and be apart of it?”
Dozier told Lagniappe he has been at “all but two” meetings since he was elected to the board, but did say he would miss the next meeting in light of the recent lawsuit.
This is the second time the board and Dozier have had to go to court to settle their differences. In March, former board member Janie Sarver took legal action through the Mobile County Probate Court to see if Dozier met the requirements of property ownership necessary to serve on the board.
After being certified by Probate Judge Don Davis, Judge Rusty Johnston additionally ruled in favor of Dozier, concluding that the law stipulates a trustee simply own property in the district, not “real” property.
Dozier proved his eligibility by providing the court with a 2010 bill of sale and a deed for a mobile home located on Hamilton Farm Road, but incurred more than $6,909 in legal fees — fees he’s requested the board reimburse him for in the latest suit.
The board did reimburse Sarver’s court costs because she was representing the board, but members voted not to reimburse Dozier. Baggett claims that’s because Dozier “took it upon himself to get a lawyer and fight.”
“We just wanted a judgment and it would have been the same with or without him fighting it,” Baggett said. “What the law is, is what the law is. We wanted to get an understanding, because I don’t think anybody should be able to represent Grand Bay without owning actual property.”
Dozier says that wasn’t the case and claims he was served papers to appear in court by officers of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department.
“They forced me to go to court,” he said. “If you’re going to pay for one board member and not the other, that’s favoritism.”
Dozier also alleged he was targeted because he expressed interest in looking into the district’s financial history, and said that current board member Mark Coe has ‘openly admitted not owning property in Grand Bay as well’
Baggett did not disagree that Coe only rents property in the district, but said he joined the board after the district had already received the Johnston’s judgment on Dozier’s eligibility.
“We’ve already been to court and we found out you don’t have to own real property, which is really ridiculous,” Baggett said. “To go back to court would have been barking up the same tree, and there was no sense in doing that.”
Baggett also said Rebel Warbington, Sarver’s son-in-law and current board treasurer, was previously prevented from becoming a board member because he didn’t own property in Grand Bay at the time.
The annual operating budget for the district is less than $130,000 and each month the district automatically transfers $3,500 to the Grand Bay Volunteer Fire Department for general expenses such as fuel and supplies.
The fire district was created in 1989, and since then, its funding has come from a $35 property tax for every livable structure within its 106-square-mile coverage area.
At a recent meeting, Warbington said the department had more than $200,000 in savings.
As for reimbursing Dozier, Baggett said he “couldn’t give away public money just because I feel bad for him.”
The board is aware of the new lawsuit, in which Baggett and former Fire Chief William Sarver are named as defendants, but no response has been filed.
Attempts to reach Ana Williams, the board’s attorney, have so far been unsuccessful.