DA says no wrongdoing by EMA director
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA COUNTY— County Commissioner John Luker publicly apologized and retracted statements made about Emergency Management Agency Director Deborah Gaither at Monday night’s county commission meeting.

Reading a written statement into the record, Luker said, “On the evening of Feb. 19, at a work session of the Talladega County Commission, I made certain statements about and concerning Deborah Gaither, EMA Director for Talladega County. The purpose of this public statement is to apologize to her and the public for those statements and to retract any inference that Mrs. Gaither has lost the public trust or that Mrs. Gaither has committed any sort of crime. On March 5, 2013, the District Attorney for Talladega County concluded that there was no evidence of a crime. I obviously misinterpreted or misunderstood the information that led to my statements. I appreciate this opportunity to clear the air, and it is my hope that we all, as public officials and employees of Talladega County, can continue to work together for the good of our county and its citizens.”

Luker added that he would apologize to Gaither face-to-face at the first opportunity. Gaither was not present Monday due to a death in her family.

During the Feb. 19 work session, Luker had accused Gaither of falsifying her time sheets. Gaither defended herself at that time, and sought legal representation afterward.

Giddens confirmed that his office had conducted a thorough investigation of the charges Luker had made, and found that Gaither, who is a contract employee of the county and is salaried, had committed no crime.

Chad Woodruff, Gaither’s attorney, sent out a letter on Friday demanding that Luker retract his previous statements.

Citing Alabama’s slander and libel statute, Woodruff wrote, “I hereby demand that you publish a full and fair retraction of such accusations in an equally public and equally prominent place and manner within five days of your receipt of this letter.”

Woodruff said Monday night that Gaither was unavailable for comment because of the recent death, but said she would be issuing a statement later in the week.

During the same meeting, Commissioner Jimmy Roberson presented two resolutions regarding the Fayetteville Water Authority.

The first resolution involved removing board Chairman Doug Blair from the board, while the second appointed Adria Bryars to fill his unexpired term.

“I want to help improve communication between those responsible for the water system and the people they serve,” Roberson said.

After the first motion passed unanimously, Roberson said, “I would like to thank Doug Blair for taking time from his busy schedule to serve.”

There have been several questions regarding board conduct recently, including illegal charges to residents of foreclosed homes (which were repaid) and the sale of a surplus truck to for $1 less than the next low bid.

Roberson said he was unable to get a legal opinion on the board’s ability to remove a sitting member because county attorney Barry Vaughn also represents the Fayetteville Water Authority.

Also Monday night, the commission:

• Decided to take no further action on a bridge between southern Talladega and Shelby counties until public hearings could be held to gauge if the public was still interested. Shelby County has been resistant to the project in the past, and suggested moving the bridge further north from the proposed location.

• Approved a quit claim deed for a part of Shaddix Lane that should have been returned to the Shaddix family in 1963.

• Accepted, then tabled, the food, coffee, bread and milk bids for the Talladega County Jail.

• Approved a grant for $20,265 for the Hazardous Materials Emefgency Preparedness Grant for EMA through the state Department of Transportation.

• Increased the mileage rate for county employees to 56.5 cents per mile, consistent with the state rate.

• Retracted the appointment of Terry Deasy to the Stewartville Water Authority. Deasy is already a member of that body, serving until 2017. Deasy’s term was then extended to 2019, and James Abernathy was appointed to serve until 2017.

• Scheduled a work session for April 23, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., to discuss this year’s budget and the election budget for 2014.

• Heard Commission Chairman Kevin Cunningham offer condolences to Gaither’s family for their recent loss.

• Approved travel and training expenses for Vaughn, an employee in the accounting department and two deputies. All of these expenses are included in the current budget.

• Terminated two corrections officers and hired three more.

• Terminated a temporary employee.

• Hired four new employees in the Road Department, including two temporary employees who were made permanent. Four other road department workers were promoted.

• Posted an opening for an operator level two in the road department.

• Announced their next meeting would be March 25 at 6 p.m.

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com

© 2013