Jeff Davis, WArd 3 Councilman
Several citizens raised objections last month with the appointment of Jeff Davis to Piedmont city council and now many of those same citizens are taking their complaints to district court.
On Wednesday morning the city received a lawsuit filed by 15 individuals that named the city as a defendant. The suit, which was filed in United States District Court in Oklahoma’s Western District, alleges that Mayor Valerie Thomerson violated the constitutional rights of constituents and breached the city’s charter when she administered the oath of office to Davis.
In a Wednesday afternoon interview, Thomerson said she hadn’t completely reviewed the suit but was standing by her decision. She also reiterated that City Attorney Tom Ferguson advised her she was within her right to appoint Davis.
“We wanted to follow the letter of the charter and I think we have,” Thomerson said. “The only regret I might have is (administering) the oath prior to the meeting like I did…but I wanted to get this settled before we ran out of time.”
Davis said he plans to make an official statement on the lawsuit during Thursday’s city council meeting but said he has confidence in his standing as a member of the council.
“Everything was done under the city charter and is all legal, as far as I understand,” Davis told the Gazette in a phone interview Thursday morning. “I feel like I have done nothing wrong, and that the city has done nothing wrong. People can (file a lawsuit) for almost anything.”
Russel Mulinix is named as the plaintiffs’ attorney and originally sent a letter to the city on Oct. 4 requesting that Ferguson respond to the allegations that Davis was appointed illegally and requested that he be removed from his position on the council.
“The attempted appointment of Jeff Davis to the vacant (Ward 3) council seat is patently improper on multiple grounds,” Mulinix wrote in the letter. “At the Aug. 22, 2011, meeting the matter was plainly declared an ‘impasse’ after a vote of two for Davis and two abstentions. No action occurred at the Sept. 26, 2011, meeting to appoint Davis except the mayor’s ultra vires acts and statements that she had appointed (Davis) and unilaterally administered the oath to him on the previous Friday.”
The Gazette left a message with Mulinix on Thursday morning but had not yet received a response.
The Ward 3 council seat was left vacant following the resignation of Bill Sharp. During the Aug. 22 meeting the council first voted to appoint Ron Cardwell to the vacant position but the four members tied and the mayor casted a “no” vote to break the tie.
A motion was then made to appoint Jeff Davis to the vacant seat. Councilmembers Wade Johnson and Hoss Cooley voted for Davis but Vernon Woods and Larry Gage cast abstaining votes. A debate followed on what an abstention vote means but the mayor eventually declared that she was breaking the tie with a vote for Davis. Davis was later administered as Ward 3 councilman three days before the council’s Sept. 26 meeting.
The lawsuit charges that the mayor cannot take part in the appointment of a council member and that an abstaining vote should not be used in determining whether a particular item passed or failed.
Since his appointment, “Davis unlawfully participated in the meeting,” the lawsuit said. “The Charter expressly reserves to the councilmembers, not the mayor, the power to vote on and appoint a new councilmember when there is a vacancy in a council seat.”
Votes by Davis
Some have argued that any votes taken with Davis as a member of the council are in jeopardy and at least one councilman has warned others about doing business with the city while Davis in voting.
In a letter to Piedmont Public Schools Superintendent James White, Woods said the district should be aware that as it seeks to partner with the city on a sewer line any vote from Davis would jeopardize the agreement’s legality.
“The purpose of this letter is to ensure that you are aware of a potential legal action which may be filed against the city of Piedmont in regard to the installation of Jeff Davis as Ward 3 Council Member at the Sept. 26 meeting,” Woods wrote in the letter dated Oct. 25. “If this action is taken and is successful, it is possible that Davis will be removed from that position by court order. It may also be determined that any council votes previously cast by Davis could be nullified, thereby possibly reversing the outcome of any decision making process in which he participated.”
The lawsuit states that the city will have 21 days to respond to the plaintiffs’ complaint. The suit charges the city with three counts of violating the U.S. Constitution and requests a judgment to remove Davis from the council and allow the remaining council members to fill the vacancy.
Named as plaintiffs in the suit are William Long, Brad Waller, John Simpson, Ron Hau, Donya Hau, John Bell, Mary Bell, Rus Nation, Carol Nation, Lauren Boatman, James Wimmer, Terry Wimmer, Ron Cardwell, Jacci Cardwell and Mark Simpson.