Northport mayor warned of possible ethics breach before resigning

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NORTHPORT, AL – Northport City Attorney Ron Davis confirmed to Patch that Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon was warned of a potential ethics violation regarding a proposed street name change in front of his personal place of business before the sudden resignation of the mayor on Monday evening after the measure fell through. without having been voted on by the municipal council.


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As Patch reported earlier this weekHerndon abruptly announced his resignation on Monday evening when the application fell through after his attempt to rename a 300-foot stretch of 28th Street “Benevolent Way” to honor those who donated to his survey firm, which he hands over then to victims of natural diseases. disasters.

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Davis pointed out in an interview with Patch that Herndon’s surveying firm—Herndon, Hicks & Associates—is the only company located on the small side street of Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard.

And in fact, Section 36-25-5 of the Alabama Code States:

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“No public official or public official shall use or cause to be used his official position or function for personal gain for himself or for a member of the public official’s family or a member of the public official’s family , or for any business with which the person is associated unless the use and gain is otherwise specifically permitted by law.”

“I leave the politics to the politicians but I have tried to advise [Herndon] that the classic definition of an ethics violation is using your office for financial or personal gain,” Davis said. Bobby’s private enterprise…I was just concerned about the optics of the city renaming a street where the only business on that street belongs to the mayor.”

As Patch previously reportedHerndon claimed the city council was working together to influence policy regarding the street name change that ultimately prevented the mayor from having his request honored.

“People say you quit just to do what you want and you don’t,” Herndon told Patch in a Tuesday morning phone interview. “Whether [the Council] don’t want to grant him it depends on them. I love being mayor and they know what I wanted and went out of their way to stop it.”

Still, Davis and other city officials argue that Herndon was well aware of the proposed ordinance, participating in several hearings of the Public Safety Committee — a committee of which the mayor is a voting member. Multiple sources also told Patch that Herndon had threatened to resign over the matter on more than one occasion before Monday night’s political theater.

READ ALSO : Column | The denouement of Northport Town Hall

In constructing a clear timeline for the progress of the mayor’s request and changes to city policy, it should be noted that committee debate on the matter began in April 2021 when the mayor launched the idea for the first time and that a first reading of its application has been presented. before the city council.

As things stood before the changes were made to city law, the city’s planning department confirmed to Patch that the previous protocols in place simply called for a petition with the signatures of a certain percentage of residents. The law as drafted was vague, and city leaders, including Herndon, agreed that a formal set of guidelines should be adopted.

Patch got Herndon’s petition, which only has one signature.

Ryan Phillips (Patch.com)

However, at this point the city’s planning department informed Davis that Herndon was not following proper procedures in place as there was no official policy on the city books regarding street name changes. Despite Herndon’s requests to benefit from the “grandfather” under the new ordinance, city leaders refused, due to the potential impact it could have on the street renaming process. in the future.

The mayor was also offered compromises in the form of tabling the measure allowing Herndon to establish a nonprofit, which would then be eligible to make such a request. Additionally, city officials proposed creating the Bobby Herndon Benevolence Award which Herndon could then present to a deserving individual each year at Northport’s Citizens of the Year banquet.

Compromise aside, however, the series of events leading up to Monday night simply do not support Herndon’s account that he was unaware of the ordinance change that barred his original request.

So here’s the timeline:

  • April 19, 2021 – First reading of the street name change project for Benevolent Way.
  • May 11, 2021 — P&Z Board of Directors hears application to rename 14th Street in unrelated case, which was filed in support of city planning department’s request to establish renaming guidelines of street.
  • October 18, 2021 –The city’s public safety committee, of which Herndon is a voting member, is moving forward by allowing Planning Director Julie Ramm to formulate a set of guidelines for the process.
  • November 15, 2021 – The proposed street name change policy is presented to the City’s Public Safety Committee and forwarded to the full council for a vote.
  • December 13, 2021 – First reading of proposed ordinance changes regarding renaming of streets.
  • January 24, 2022 – Second reading of the proposed ordinance, which was then approved by Council and signed into law by Mayor Herndon.
  • November 7, 2022 – The City Council allows the request to die without a vote, immediately prompting Herndon to tender his resignation.

Davis said that regardless of when the request was made by Herndon to rename the street, it became apparent to city officials that, aside from a potential ethics violation, the decision to access on-demand had the potential to set a precedent that would open the door to mundane or eccentric street-name change requests.

While Herndon told Patch that the council launched a swift attack on him with the ordinance change, it should be noted that Herndon’s signature is present on the ordinance which was passed by the city council and signed into law in January. .



“I know there was some concern at the various committee meetings that we were going to trigger an avalanche of street name changes, so the staff came up with criteria,” Davis said. “The council wrote it down to accept those criteria and the mayor signed it.”

Herndon is limited in his authority after ceding his power to the city council to appoint members to the Planning and Zoning Commission upon taking office so that his surveying firm can continue to do business with the city. Yet Herndon retained his power to veto permanent resolutions such as the street name change ordinance – authority that was at his disposal but not used when the ordinance was enacted. by his own hand in January.

“Of course, I never paid attention to rules and regulations and thought it would be simple and straightforward,” Herndon said Tuesday. “Then a few weeks ago I heard they were going to deny the application because it didn’t meet the new regulations. They knew what I wanted to do, so why would they write the regulations for this way?”

City officials also expressed frustration with Herndon’s execution of his resignation announcement, which was accepted 3-2 by the Council, with District 2’s Woodrow Washington III and District 4’s Jamie Dykes voting against his resignation. acceptance. Several long-time sources told Patch this week that Herndon left immediately at the end of the meeting and that a television reporter from a Birmingham news station was waiting for him.

“I say [the reporter] wasn’t at the Council meeting and they weren’t there to cover it up,” Davis said. “I know it was planned and it wasn’t a whim. This has already been reported.”

Still, Herndon insisted on the public forum and with Patch that his decision be made that night. In an interview with another local TV station the following day, Herndon also left open the possibility that he could ask for his resignation to be rescinded – a move a source likened to having second thoughts after jumping from a big building.

“Under Alabama law, he doesn’t have the ability to withdraw his resignation now that the Board has voted to approve it,” Davis explained. “The new mayor on January 1, 2023 will be the one who will be the president of the council on December 31.”

Per Alabama Code § 11-43-42(a)if the mayor of a town of 12,000 or more is unable to serve due to illness or “any other good reason” such as resignation, the chairman of the council – in this case District 5 Councilman Jeff Hogg – would be first in the line of succession to fill the vacant position of mayor pro tempore for the remainder of Herndon’s unexpired term.

“The next mayor under Alabama law will come from all five members of the city council,” Davis said, before mentioning that anyone who takes office to serve the remainder of the unexpired term will be forced to relinquish their seat on the advice. The Council would then be responsible for appointing a replacement to fill the vacant district seat.

At the end of the discussion, however, Davis insisted that his individual opposition to the street’s renaming as city counsel rested with the mayor and his personal place of business standing to benefit from the decision. .

“If he had been asked to locate him somewhere other than the block where his business was, as the city attorney, I would have had much less concern about that,” he said.


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