Marion City Council voted to approve a raise for city employees at their Monday night, Aug. 1 meeting. The council’s agenda referred to the raise as “Revised Finanacial Proposal,” hearkening back to the agenda item that failed to pass at the council’s second July meeting. That first financial proposal was reportedly a raise for Marion’s City Clerk, Laura Hinton. Following that meeting, councilmembers criticized that proposal for not considering the city’s other employees for a raise, among other concerns.
At this Monady night’s meeting, the mayor had asked councilmembers to consider two options distributed before the meeting. One option included raises of $1-2 per hour for most of the city’s employees, and an increase of the salary for the position of city clerk from $52,000 to $65,000 per year. The Herald’s coverage of this proposed raise last week incorrectly reported the position’s current salary as $48,000 per year.
The second option included hourly raises for the city’s employees, but not the raise for the city clerk position.
Councilmembers voted to approve the second option, but with $2-3 per hour raises rather than $1-2 as offered in the proposal, Monday night.
In other business that night, councilmembers took to an executive session to discuss a proposal to replace the current city attorney. The city currently retains the Sanders law firm in Selma, and Ainka Sanders-Jackson usually attends the meetings over Zoom. Monday night, Hank Sanders was attending as the city’s attorney.
Councilmember Jeff Nail said he had concerns with Jackson’s representation of the city’s interests. Nail said Jackson had been unresponsive to his requests for opinions, most recently when he asked her to look into crafting a more enforceable noise ordinance for the city. In June, citizens and police discussed the city’s noise ordinance with the council. The ordinance as written, some said, was too vague for police to adequatly enforce.
Nail, himself an attorney, said Jackson had never returned his emails about the subject. He said there were “about six instances” in which he had reached out to Jackson but never gotten a response.
Nail said he felt there were times when Jackson’s advice to the city seemed “more focused to give a desired result for one member of the city [government] than it did on serious consideration.”
The council’s tendency to discuss items of public concern in executive session was another issue Nail raised about the attorney’s advice.
“I think that many times things are discussed in executive session that should not be discussed in executive session,” he said. Executive sessions are closed to the public, and normally only permitted for privileged discussion such as the good name and character of an individual or discussion of a pending legal matter with the attorney.
“There was an email [circulated to the council and attorney] that specifically said we could do something in executive session so that it didn’t have to be done in public,” Nail said. He said he felt that suggestion was an improper use of the executive session privilege that Jackson never spoke up about.
“The city should consider getting new representation,” Nail said, before making a motion to that effect. Mayor Dexter Hinton asked Nail if he wanted an executive session to discuss the matter.
“No, I don’t want an executive session,” said Nail. “I’ve said what I’ve said.”
Hinton asked Hank Sanders, who was attending via Zoom as the city’s attorney for that meeting, if he had anything to say on the matter.
“No, not really,” said Sanders. “The issues that he raised I cannot effectively address because I’m not familiar with the various things that he said.”
“I’ve represented governmental parties for many years, both county commissions and municipalities, and I know that issues come up all the time and we find wasys to address them. We may not can address them on the spot but we find ways to address them,” Sanders said.
Sanders said there were matters of litigation in which he and his firm were currently representing the city.
“I’m not talking about litigation,” said Nail. “I’m talking about working issues within the city. I’m talking about communication with the client. Representing the organization rather than one individual.”
“Let me just say, one of the challenges when you represent an elected body, if you end up representing the whole but you also end up giving legal responses to individual members of that body, that’s a great challenge,” said Sanders. “Because most folks want the legal advice that they want. When the legal advice is not what you want, that’s one of the challenges that you’re always going to deal with and you’ll always be there.”
The council eventually took an executive session to discuss the matter further. Though it found a second in Councilmember Joe Pearson, Nail’s motion to seek new representation did not pass.