By Walker County News Today staff
Newly elected Huntsville Mayor Andy Brauninger started his first term at the first City Council meeting of the year Tuesday by taking the oath of office with his hand on his father’s Bible and then attempted to exercise his charter-given duties like all mayors before him.
But a council majority of Don Johnson, Tish Humphrey, Lydia Montgomery, Joe Emmett and Keith Olson, whom Brauninger defeated handily in a Dec. 12 run-off for the mayor, quickly challenged his authority.
After voting to continue allowing Olson as mayor pro tem in a 5 to 3 vote, the majority blocked Brauninger’s motion to appoint Ward 4 council member Joe Rodriquez to the council’s finance committee, replacing Olson, who has served on the committee for the past five years.
Brauninger, Johnson, Emmett and Olson currently comprise the committee, which will be considering key issues of financial policy this year, including the city’s use of municipal debt.
Brauninger didn’t say why he wanted to replace Olson, the current chairman of the committee.
But during last fall’s mayoral campaign, there were clear differences in Olson’s stance on the city’s financial policies, such as raising taxes, the use of unallocated funds–now at least twice what the city holds in reserve for emergencies–and the accumulation of debt, and those of the three candidates who opposed him, including the victor, Brauninger. Olson also championed the failed Type 4B economic development corporation on the Nov. 3 ballot. This, if voters had approved it, would have earmarked $625,000 in city tax funds for private development.
At-large member Montgomery said she was concerned that removing Olson from the committee would deprive the city his five year’s of experience.
“In removing council member Olson, after serving five years in this position and four years as the chair, that is a lot of wisdom to lose,” she said.
She suggested that Rodriquez, whom she said she believed would do a good job on the committee, replace Brauninger and that Olson be allowed to remain. At-large council member Johnson said he agreed, saying that former Mayor Mac Woodward did not appoint himself to committees and suggested Brauninger follow suit.
Ward 3 council member Ronnie Allen said the concern over losing Olson’s “wisdom” was “a nothing deal,” given that Olson remained on council as mayor pro tem and could contribute his experience to Brauninger upon request.
Brauninger called for the vote to confirm his nominations, and it failed 5 to 3.
Ward 2 council member Humphrey made a motion that Emmett, Olson, Johnson and Rodriquez be nominated to the committee, which would have rejected the mayor’s nomination of himself. Brauninger allowed a vote on this motion, which passed 5 to 3.
City Attorney Leonard Schneider questioned whether council can make its own nominations to committees and asked to confer in private with City Secretary to determine whether the vote on Humphrey’s motion violated Article 5, Section 508A of the charter, which says it’s the mayor’s responsibility to make committee appointments. Schneider said he wanted to consider his legal opinion on whether Humphrey’s motion was out of compliance with the charter.
Schneider then said if council did not approve the mayor’s nomination, Brauninger could make new nominations for council to consider, but council members could not make its own nominations.
“It’s still your right to make the nomination of the new slate,” he said.
Brauninger said he had no nominations at this time and would bring nominations back to council at a future meeting. Therefore, the current council finance committee continues until new nominations are approved.
Council also approved Brauninger’s nomination of Montgomery to the council’s communications committee and Johnson’s nomination as chairman of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No 1 Board of Directors.
Council went into executive session to discuss the disposition of an historic cabin on the downtown square, which sits on leased land. Convening in open session after the executive session, council agreed to allow Schneider to negotiate a fair settlement on the cabin.