A Prichard advocacy group has raised questions following the resignation of former City Council President Earline Martin-Harris amid accusations she didn’t live in her district.
Severia Campbell Morris, president of the United Concerned Citizens of Prichard, said she had a couple of issues she wanted Mayor Troy Ephriam and the City Council to address since Martin-Harris’ resignation.
Martin-Harris resigned May 21, the same day a trial was set to begin to determine whether or not she lived in Prichard. Martin-Harris said through an email message that her resignation was “in the best interest of my family.”
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, in April, challenged Martin-Harris’ residency claims. Rich filed paperwork demanding Martin-Harris prove her Prichard residency to a jury, following a months-long investigation.
Assistant District Attorney Martha Tierney said a key piece of evidence was a mortgage and deed signed by Martin-Harris for a home in Daphne. Martin-Harris signed the document on June 29, 2012, just 10 days before taking office in Prichard, Tierney said in a previous interview.
The DA’s office also found the Prichard home Martin-Harris claimed as her residence had been probated and handed down to several children of her grandmother, Tierney said. Martin-Harris’ attorney, Rick Williams, said his client had lived in the Prichard home since 1992.
Morris first questioned the legality of a 4-1 vote to confirm Prichard Police Chief Jerry Speziale last year because Martin-Harris was one of the four “yes” votes. The city requires at least four votes to ratify contracts.
“Our concern is we wanted the council to do more of a background check on him,” Morris said.
Morris said the group would like the council to vote on Speziale’s confirmation again.
In addition, Morris asked the city to force Martin-Harris to pay back the $7,000 a year she made, as part of council, as well as the money the city will have to pay for a special election because there was more than a year left on her term.
“The city is strapped for cash,” Morris said. “We feel some sort of restitution is in order.”
The problem with recovering funds from Martin-Harris is there was never a legal finding she didn’t live in Prichard because she resigned before the trial, said council attorney Greg Harris.
Based on this, Speziale’s confirmation is also legal, Harris said. Even if a determination on Martin-Harris’ residency had been made, Harris said he couldn’t find a precedent where an official in a similar circumstance was forced to pay back any earnings.
Ephriam said the special election would cost the city between $35,000 and $40,000 and he expected there to be a runoff for the District 2 seat. A runoff would cost the city even more money, he said.
Ephriam said the district’s large geographic area, as well as its socio-economic diversity could mean many candidates for the election slated for Tuesday, Aug. 26.
“Three people came in today to qualify and I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four more,” he said. “That district encompasses all the demographics of our community, and as a result you’re going to get at least two people from each segment of the district.”
Sheila Poole, Paula Blevins and Carlton Wallace have qualified to run, said Prichard City Clerk Darlene Lewis. In order to qualify for the race, candidates must come by City Hall and fill out the proper paperwork. There is also an application fee of $125.
The election will have two polling locations. One will be located at Mount Calvary Baptist Church at 505 Mount Calvary Ave., and the other is College Park Baptist at 5860 College Parkway in Eight Mile.
Ephriam said he was looking forward to putting the issue behind the city and welcoming a new member to council, whenever that might be.
“Continuity is important to me as a mayor,” he said. “Having a full council ensures consistency and progress is made.”
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