Mayor asked to surrender keys to city hall
February 12, 2016
Southern Torch (3351 articles)
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Mayor asked to surrender keys to city hall

By Joseph M. Morgan

joseph@southerntorch.com

RAINSVILLE, Ala.— Truth remains murky in Rainsville, as conflicting explanations and widely varying news reports continue to emerge amidst the high drama that began at a city council meeting on Feb. 1. The security of city hall was brought to question among reports of doors negligently left unlocked overnight, an alleged theft of city documents and the implication that the matters were related.

Several key details were not addressed during discussion of the matter, including specifically what documents are missing from city hall, how the absence of the specific documents was discovered, who made the discovery and how it was determined that the theft occurred as a result of unlocked doors.

Despite the absence of those details, the matter was brought before the council and public, even appearing on the Feb. 1 council meeting agenda. Following the stated concerns over city hall security breaches and stolen documents was a discussion about whether or not the threat to security was serious enough to warrant the installation of video surveillance equipment.

Discussion of the matter and the implication that the security of city hall and city property could be at stake also provided an explanation and justification for the unannounced change of the locks at city hall in the days preceding the Feb. 1 council meeting. Rainsville Mayor Nick Jones said he was informed after the fact via email, and that it took more than a week to receive a copy of the new key.

Shortly after the Feb. 1 council meeting, on Feb. 3, Councilwoman Melissa Ledbetter sent an email to Jones informing him that he was not authorized to have a key to the new locks, and that he was to turn it over to city officials immediately. Ledbetter’s email to Jones marked the beginning of what would become a heated back-and-forth exchange of hostile messages that were CC’d to every major news outlet in the county. Ledbetter’s initial email to Jones read as follows:

Nick,

We need you to return the City Hall key to Tommy along with the book. There will only be two keys into City Hall. If you need to access to it during closed hours, you can go through the PD just like everyone else. This way we can get a grip on whomever is leaving the City Hall unsecured along with all of our personal information and  the City’s government documents.

“I know you have the City’s best interest as always and will understand our reasoning for putting security up. I know you also must be concerned with the 2012 voting paperwork being MIA. It’s almost like someone had something to hide about the elections last term.

Melissa G. Ledbetter

Council Member, Seat 3

Jones said he found the demands of Ledbetter’s email absurd, and that he was offended by what he interpreted to be a thinly-veiled accusation that he might be somehow responsible for the reported security problems at city hall or involved in the alleged theft of the election documents.

“To demand a mayor to hand over the keys to his own office and city hall  is absolutely ridiculous,”  Jones said. “I have never heard of a situation or a demand remotely similar to this occurring in any city in America. It is beyond reproach.”

Southern Torch spoke with the mayors from incorporated communities throughout DeKalb to ask their thoughts on the matter and to find out if they had experienced or heard about similar situations elsewhere. We spoke to mayors in Crossville, Geraldine, Fyffe, Sylvania, Henagar, Ider, Valley Head, Fort Payne and Collinsville.

While responses to the Rainsville council’s recent actions varied to some degree, each of the mayors with whom we spoke confirmed that they each possessed keys to city hall and other city properties and none had been asked or even heard of a mayor being asked to surrender their keys. More than one of those with whom we spoke asked if we were joking—if our question was serious as to whether or not they had keys to their own city halls. The most common response was that the notion that Jones be asked to turn over his keys was “ridiculous.”

Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser said, “I personally think that as the elected, entrusted leader of a community, a mayor should have complete, unrestricted access to city hall and to any other city property he needs access to. There should not even be a question about it.”

Collinsville Mayor Johnny Traffanstedt also weighed in.  “A mayor needs keys to the city hall and to any other city property he needs access to,” Traffanstedt said. “Mayor Nick Jones is a fine young man and it’s unfortunate that his council is acting this way.”

In past days as the drama has unfolded, many questions have remained unanswered about the story of  the stolen election documents. Mayor Jones said that he was unsure of the origin of the claims of document theft or specifically what documents were allegedly taken. When asked if she could offer more information about the reported theft,  Rainsville City Clerk Kelly Frazier flatly and adamantly declined to comment on the matter. When posed the same questions, Councilman Ledbetter also declined comment, but did state for the record that she was not behind the initial report that documents were stolen and did not know who was.

The lack of details left many in the community, including local media, scratching their heads. In the past week, numerous conflicting articles have appeared in local newspapers. It would seem that no one—members of city government, the media, or the general public—could be certain as to the circumstances of what really happened. One local media outlet titled their account of the story as, “Mysterious Missing Documents.”

After being denied interviews by Frazier and Ledbetter, Southern Torch reached out to the Rainsville Police Department (RPD). The RPD proved themselves willing to try to help answer any,” Traffanstedt said. questions they could. Unfortunately however, we learned that there was no record that a theft at city hall ever took place.

It would seem that there was never any report of the alleged 2012 election document theft—no police report for the crime that the council said created serious  “threats to city hall security,” and led to the changing of locks at city hall, a lockout of the mayor, and a very public confrontation among city officials.

The city council certainly has taken the crime very seriously in recent days, but Acting Assistant Chief Devlin said that no record or report of the crime was on file, specifically any police report regarding stolen city documents or alleging the theft of any other property from city hall. Devlin said if the crime did take place, it was not reported to the RPD either officially or unofficially.

Then, just as our attempts to find answers was coming to a dead end, the floodgates opened with a report from another local news source Wednesday night. Truth was suddenly revealed. It would seem that City Clerk Kelly Frazier was the key to all of the unanswered questions.

According to the report, Frazier claimed to be responsible for every key action that propelled this dramatic saga forward. It was Frazier in the very beginning who discovered the stolen 2012 election documents. Obviously distraught over the missing election data, she made the council aware of her discovery. According to the story, it was Frazier that noticed the unlocked doors at city hall and shared her concerns with the council. It was even Frazier that made the decision to change the locks at city hall without consulting or notifying anyone beforehand. It was all Frazier.

A few minutes before flatly denying our interview request, Frazier apparently decided it was time to come forward to answer the questions that have surrounded the issue since the saga began. Mystery solved.

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

Comments

  1. John Hensley
    John Hensley February 12, 12:05
    how does a city clerk have the authority to have locks changed on all city buildings without council or mayor approving such move?
  2. john hensley
    john hensley February 12, 12:20
    why does the city clerk have the authority to have locks changed to city buildings and direct a council woman to request the key from the mayor? Sounds like someone is trying to take control of the city in spite of council and mayor!

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