It's a position the county administrator has always hired, but when Montgomery County Administrator Donald Mims made his recommendation for deputy administrator, some members of the county commission took issue. The lingering issue came to a head on Monday.
Tempers escalated after both county attorneys gave their opinions of the law, involving a commission's role in hiring and firing merit employees. Both attorneys agreed the commission had the authority to fund and authorize the position, neither the commission nor the administrator could do it alone. Still it was inconclusive for some.
Commissioner Rhonda Walker was concerned about the opinion.
"These are dangerous waters to tread in," Walker said.
It quickly became a racial issue. The two Caucasian commissioners, Reed Ingram and Walker, versus three African American commissioners, Elton Dean, Jiles Williams and Dan Harris, who believe they have the final say, not the administrator.
Attorney Tommy Gallion even weighed in.
"This doesn't have a damn thing to do with law, but for this community to operate, we have to get rid of racial prejudice on both sides," Gallion said.
Ingram says there is a lot more sensationalism involved than should be at this point.
"I think if it had been any other candidate it would have been less drama, obviously there's some hidden agenda here," Ingram said.
Dean and Harris both said they didn't have a preferred candidate, even putting Mims on the spot.
Elton Dean directly asked Mims, "Has Elton Dean, Jiles Williams or Dan Harris told you we need a black deputy administrator?" Mims responded, "No".
Mims works at the pleasure of the commission, and Ingram believes Mims has been put in a difficult position.
According Alabama Ethics Commissioner James Sumner, using the ability to fire an employee over a motivated act is a directly violation.
"When a more senior person is trying to do something there's a lot of pressure for them to go along. That's why the law steps in and says, you can't do that. You can't use your position to manipulate a subordinate," Sumner said.
Ingram proposed getting an Attorney General's opinion on the law, which would require a resolution from the commission. Elton Dean said he would not sign it.
Dean left before the meeting was over and did not return WSFA 12 News' calls for a comment. Harris declined our interview request.
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