Decatur City Council members speak out against behind the scenes political maneuvering

Decatur City Council members speak out against behind the scenes political maneuvering

DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - Two Decatur City Council members are speaking out Tuesday about behind the scenes political maneuvering.

Specifically, they’re worried about an email sent by an attorney who contracts with the City of Decatur. Those council members say it’s concerning.

The email solicits recommendations for potential city council and school board candidates.

Here’s the email in full obtained by WAFF 48 News:

Email from Barney Lovelace obtained by WAFF
Email from Barney Lovelace obtained by WAFF (Source: WAFF)

Email text:

“First and foremost this email is for internal use only and please do not share this email or its contents outside of the office for obvious reasons - we represent the City in the PFAS litigation and other governmental entities. Willie Lafavor is the current Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. I just met with Willie and John Seymour. The city Council and City Board of Education (and the Mayor) are up for election this August. On the City Council it is known that Chuck Ard (District 5) and Kristi Hill (District 2) are not running for re-election. On the City School Board, Doniie Lane (District 5) and Karen Dukes (District 3) are also not running for re-election.

It has also been discussed about someone (or more) running against Paige Bibbee (District 3) and Charles Kirby (District 4). If you wonder why, especially about Paige, come see me and we will discuss. Attached is a map of the Council and School Board districts. If you can think of someone who should be approached about running, please let me know. It does not necessarily have to be someone you have heard is interested in running, it could just be someone who you think would be a good Council or School Board member.

In my personal opinion, this election is critical for the future of Decatur. I told Willie and John that I could not be publicly involved in this effort, but very deep behind the scenes I would help as needed. John, Willie and I discussed that the effort to recruit good, electable candidates, and to help fund their campaigns and educate them about how to run a campaign, should probably be done by an group independent and separate from the Chamber.

Barney”

The email is from Barney Lovelace, an attorney at a Decatur law firm who represents the City of Decatur in litigation against 3M. It was sent to his team of attorneys on January 15, 2020.

The email states Lovelace met with Willie Lavafor and John Seymour, who are on the Decatur-Morgan Chamber of Commerce. Lovelace says while meeting with them, they discussed recruiting candidates to run for Decatur City Council and the Decatur City School Board.

The email says quote: “It has also been discussed about someone (or more) running against Paige Bibbee and Charles Kirby. If you wonder why, especially about Paige, come see me and we will discuss.”

Paige Bibbee and Charles Kirby are both incumbents on the Decatur City Council.

Next, Lovelace says, “I told Willie and John that I could not be publicly involved in this effort, but very deep behind the scenes I would help as needed. John, Willie, and I discussed that the effort to recruit good, electable candidates, and to help fund their campaigns and educate them about how to run a campaign, should probably be done by a group independent and separate from the chamber.“

Councilman Charles Kirby tells WAFF he’s been aware of this email for months.

“There’s one statement in there that you can’t deny. That he doesn’t want to come public with anything he’s doing,” says Kirby. “He wants it behind closed doors, that’s the danger to every citizen.”

Council President Paige Bibbee told WAFF the same thing. Both are named in the email.

“At that point, I did what an elected official should do,” says Bibbee. “I took that and a conversation I had with Mr. Lovelace that I had subsequent to getting that to our city attorney Mr. Herman Marks. That’s my duty to do that if a city official runs into something that may be questionable.”

Bibbee says she went to Decatur City Attorney Herman Marks in May with this information. Both Bibbee and Kirby say citizens need to be aware of what’s going on and that city government needs to be transparent.

“This is an offense to every citizen in Decatur that wants Decatur to move forward,” says Kirby. “Anybody that believes in doing the right thing in Decatur’s best interest cannot be supportive of what’s going on here.”

WAFF spoke to Decatur-Morgan Chamber of Commerce President John Seymour on Tuesday, who’s mentioned in the email.

He is quoted as saying:

“We have never recruited anybody to run against any incumbent. Our interest has been the two districts where the incumbent is not running for re-election. We have not endorsed any candidate or given any candidate money.”

In a statement sent to us by Barney Lovelace, he says:

“I discuss these types of local matters with my law partners privately on a regular basis. Like any citizen of the City of Decatur, I and the members of our law firm have an interest in seeing good, qualified candidates run for the City Council and the Board of Education.”

Also in the statement, he also says:

“I absolutely do not believe this email shows that I have a conflict of interest in representing the City in the future.”

That was only part of Barney Lovelace’s statement.

In the full statement, he accuses WAFF’s Jenna Rae of unlawfully obtaining this information. She obtained the email from a source, just like journalists get documents from sources every day. Nothing about this is unlawful.

See the full statement below:

A private, confidential email about upcoming municipal elections that I wrote over six months ago to lawyers in my firm was unlawfully obtained and is being circulated by Jenna Rae and her employer, Channel 48. I discuss these types of local matters with my law partners privately on a regular basis. Like any citizen of the City of Decatur, I and the members of our law firm have an interest in seeing good, qualified candidates run for the City Council and the Board of Education, particularly with the number of vacant seats in this election. It is clear in my email that I did not advocate for anyone to run against any incumbent serving on the City Council or the Board of Education.

Ms. Rae and Channel 48 have made my private correspondence public and they have called into question my integrity and ability to continue to represent the City. I am proud of the legal work I have done for the City over the years, and we want to see the City prosper for the benefit of all citizens. Because of my legal representation of the City, I choose not to be publicly involved in local elections. However, I certainly have the right to my vote and the right to privately discuss these elections. I absolutely do not believe this email shows that I have a conflict of interest in representing the City in the future. I do not apologize for writing the email, and I will never apologize for caring about our City.

WAFF 48 News also reached out to Decatur City Mayor Tab Bowling. He said he has no comment on this matter or whether this is a conflict of interest.

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