Council members: Allegations in suit are wrong

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

The three Opp council members named in a civil suit alleging their violation of the Open Meetings Act and defamation of character against an Andalusia woman seeking to build a barbecue restaurant told the Star-News Wednesday those allegations are unfounded.

On Tuesday, council members T.D. Morgan, Bobby Ray Owens and Mary Brundidge were served complaints filed by Shelly Tomberlin, who alleges that the three council members convened a pre-arranged, unadvertised meeting at the Blue Flame Grill after the Aug. 1 regular council meeting adjourned at city hall.

At that council meeting, Tomberlin and her husband, John Tomberlin, appeared at last week’s Opp Council meeting and discussed their plan to open Golden Rule Bar-B-Q restaurant next to the Best Western on the bypass in Opp, on property owned by the city.

As part of Mrs. Tomberlin’s complaint, she alleges that the three council members convened a pre-arranged, unadvertised meeting at the Blue Flame Grill after the Aug. 1 regular council meeting adjourned at city hall.

Three members of the council constitute a quorum, and state law requires public notice of any such meeting.

Tomberlin’s complaint says that the three held direct discussions and deliberations concerning the approval or disapproval of the project, the timeliness of the project as it relates to the upcoming municipal election, and the economic incentive package which would accompany the project.

Brundidge, who provided the Star-News with copies of the complaint served on her, said the accounts are not factual and she feels the suit is politically motivated.

“I will have to consult with an attorney and continue to do my part as a servant in the city of Opp,” she said.

Morgan said that only he and Brundidge were present inside the café.

Owens told the Star-News that he was not involved in Brundidge and Morgan’s meeting, but he was outside the Blue Flame for a short period of time.

“We were up there at the Blue Flame,” he said. “TD had asked me to get a cup of coffee with him. I had pulled in there. TD had not left city hall. Don Childre came and was talking to me and we were standing at the end of my car. We were talking about the Depot – nobody but me and Don talking. T.D. came down there. He pulled in below me. He was standing there. Don said something about the Golden Rule Restaurant talking to T.D. T.D. said he was not for giving them the $125,000. That was about all that was said. Mary came up. I said I had to go to the house. My wife has been sick. I never went in the restaurant and I didn’t know Mary was coming up there. I know people are upset about the Depot, but I have to go with my opinion.”

The Opp Council also recently has voted against providing matching funds for a grant to restore the downtown depot.

Tomberlin also said the three held discussions about her good name and character as well as the plaintiff’s licensee, Golden Rule Franchising LLC.

She further states that the defendants defamed her character by making slanderous, false and misleading statements concerning her and the franchise.

The complaint states the trio discussed how they would vote, as well.

She is seeking $1,000 or one half of each defendant’s monthly salary for injunctive relief.

She is also seeking another $1,000 in injunctive relief for a second violation of the Open Meetings Act.

A third count is for defamation and she is requesting that the court enter a judgment on her behalf that is jointly and severely in the amount that is in excess of the minimum jurisdictional limits of the court, but not more than $50,000, and award exemplary damages, not in excess of $50,000.

Tomberlin is being represented by Elba attorney Matt Brunson.