By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
Things took a big step toward normalcy for the beleaguered town Monday evening, when four town council members took their oaths of office and established an operating framework as the search for a mayor continues.
Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey, who’s held the keys to town hall ever since Colony temporarily shut down Nov. 5, opened the building Monday evening to let in a crowd of nearly 40 onlookers. Then, he presided over the swearing-in ceremony, welcoming council members Marcus Bradford, Crystal Wilson, Parish Fitts and Alex Twitty to the beginning of their four-year terms in office.
A fifth council member, Vernon “B.B.” Fields, had been sworn in earlier and did not attend the meeting.
Unlike a series of contentious late-October council meetings that saw the former group bickering over every decision, Monday’s first meeting for the new council felt almost celebratory. There were a lot of smiles. There wasn’t any arguing. And, even though the business at hand wasn’t of the controversial kind, the council’s unanimous voting on every topic represented a clear break from the bloc mentality that had dominated the administration that preceded it.
Bradford, the only member of the current council to have held a seat on the former one, was optimistic that Monday’s meeting represented a sea change in the way Colony’s elected officials will go about serving the needs of the people who put them in office.
“This is an important moment for the community,” Bradford said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us — but I feel like, in my heart, we can do it. But we are going to need to the support of the community.”
Colony — a debt-ridden town with few revenue streams — does face a lot of challenges. The town owes money. At present, there’s no municipal attorney. There’s still no mayor. And the new council will likely need plenty of help in getting up to speed on the rules of procedure; in learning how to conduct meetings and navigate some of the routine bureaucratic hurdles every town must face.
But Monday was a start. The council named Twitty council pro-tem, temporarily giving him some of the powers of a mayor. Twitty was also designated as one of the town’s two signatories for bank deposits, freeing up the financial freeze that had been in place since Nov. 5. Clerk Patricia Farris was reappointed, lending some measure of continuity to the town’s clerical affairs. And it re-adopted the former council’s rules of procedure.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Twitty said after his first meeting as a Colony council member. “But I definitely think we’re on the right track.”
Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Wilson and Fitts last week to fill two council seats for which no one had run in the August 28 municipal election. Bradford, Twitty and Fields were the only three to win office in the regular election, leaving the town without an elected mayor or council quorum. A quorum is necessary in order for a council to meet, appoint officers, handle finances and conduct town business.
The Colony mayor’s race ended in an Oct. 9 runoff tie — a tie which was left to the former council to break. But after repeated votes on the issue, the mayor and council continually deadlocked, casting three votes apiece for each of the candidates — former council members Donnis Leeth and Patrick Ward.
As the hours ticked down on the outgoing council late last week, Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) stepped in to help the town sort out its options to avoid a shutdown. After the outgoing council left office without securing a means for the town to remain open, Bussman continued to act as a liaison between the state attorney general’s office, the governor’s office and Colony’s three waiting council members in an effort to quickly bring about the two remaining council appointments.
The new council will meet twice monthly, on first and third Mondays, at 6 p.m. Its first regular meeting will be Nov. 19. Twitty said the new group will take up the matter of appointing a mayor at that meeting.
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.