In the first phase of a hearing Monday to determine whether Hurtsboro should lose its charter, testimony showed plaintiff Robert Schweiger couldn't prove the Russell County town has failed "to levy and collect city or town taxes" for more than three consecutive years.
That's one of the reasons state law says a town must forfeit its charter, and Schweiger had no public records to back such a claim.
Schweiger said there's a good reason he has no documentation to prove Mayor Sandra Tarver and other town administrators lack fiscal accountability: They won't give him any documents. "How can you prove there's failure if you don't have the public records?" Schweiger asked under questioning by Montgomery attorney Armardo Wesley Pitters, who's representing Hurtsboro town leaders.
Phenix City attorney Tommy Worthy represented Schweiger and four other Hurtsboro residents seeking to have the charter dissolved on the grounds that the town government has failed to handle its finances properly and "to see that the streets and roads within its limits are kept in proper condition" — a second stipulation for charter forfeiture in Alabama Code Section 11-41-24. With Schweiger on the witness stand, Worthy introduced as evidence photographs showing Hurtsboro streets in disrepair. But those photos were shot in June and July of this year, and under cross-examination by Pitters, Schweiger acknowledged he had no photos to show the streets were in that same condition three or more years ago.
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When Worthy asked how long the holes had been in the roads, Schweiger said, "They've been there forever."
"If you could just narrow it down from 'forever,'" Worthy said.
Schweiger said it had been three years or more. Under follow-up questioning from Pitters, he gave the same answer: The streets had not been repaired in three or four years.
"Is that forever?" Pitters asked.
"It's a pretty long time," Schweiger answered.
Another legal threshold for charter forfeiture is a town's failure "to elect mayor or other chief executive officer for more than one year after the time fixed for such elections." Worthy and Schweiger cited Hurtsboro's failure to seat a representative on the town council. Pitters successfully challenged that on the basis that a council member is not a "chief executive officer."
Other complaints cited in the plaintiffs' initial petition had to be abandoned. They had said the town failed also to provide adequate police protection and garbage pickup, neither of which state law requires.
The hearing began with testimony from Larcus Fuller, a state auditor who at the request of Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis tried to review Hurtsboro's financial records in May and June. Schweiger said that request came at the suggestion of a county grand jury hearing his allegations of financial mismanagement. Town administrators refused to show Fuller their records.
Pitters challenged Fuller's authority to audit Hurtsboro, saying Alabama law allowed only the state ethics commission or the mayor to order such an audit. Assistant District Attorney Joe Edwards testified that Davis requested the audit based on residents' complaints. Edwards said the law Pitters cited does not prohibit the district attorney from making such a request.
Fuller, who works for the state examiner of public accounts, said Alabama law gives his agency the authority to audit any entity receiving public funds. Pitters countered by producing a letter from Ron Jones, the chief examiner, stating that his office was acting only at Davis' request, and was not ordering an audit pursuant to state law.
The issue of race frequently arose during the hearing, held at the Russell County Courthouse before visiting Probate Judge Alfonza Menefee of Macon County. Schweiger is white and Tarver is black.
Worthy opened his remarks by saying the case is not about race or politics. He the railroad town was simply the victim of "economic hard times." It started in 1878 as "Hurtsville," but the town's name was changed to "Hurtsboro" in 1883, by a unanimous vote of 13 residents, Worthy said.
Pitters quickly pointed out that not one of those 13 residents could have been an African-American. "Black folk in 1883 did not have the right to vote," he said. He saw the plaintiffs' move to abolish the town charter as an effort to overthrow "a duly organized, democratically elected body politic" that is now predominantly African-American.