Camilla citizens mount recall against mayor

Opponents of Camilla Mayor Rufus Davis have announced they are mounting a recall effort against the embattled first-term official. (File Photo)

CAMILLA — The turbulent tenure of Camilla Mayor Rufus Davis just got a lot more bumpy. A group of citizens in the small city announced a recall effort against their combative mayor.

Former City Councilwoman Vivian Smith is one of the recall organizers. She said the first step in the process would be to hold a petition-signing drive in support of the mayor’s removal from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 28 North Scott St.

“I’ve lived in Camilla all of my life except when I was in college, and I’ve never seen things this bad,” Smith said. “I was here when (Davis) came into office two years ago. What’s happening is the city is retrogressing because nothing is getting done at the council meetings.

“He’s talking like we are still in the slave days, and I know better. He’s criticizing what’s been done in the past. We’re not progressing as a city, and I don’t see it happening with him as our mayor.”

Davis, who took office in January of 2016, has had a rocky run as the city’s chief executive. He first generated attention when he complained about not having the keys to City Hall. He still doesn’t.

“He has keys to his office but not to City Hall,” new city manager Steve Sykes said. “From what I understand, no mayor has ever had keys to City Hall. That building is full of sensitive data and citizens’ personal information. Entry is not allowed after 5 (p.m.) when the building closes. That is for security purposes.”

The following month, The Albany Herald revealed Davis was facing a $2.9 million tax levy from the IRS.

Davis also complained of not being able to move any item of importance through a recalcitrant City Council. In June of 2016, a group of citizens launched a recall drive to remove four of six council members.

The targets of the recall were Smith, Lewis Campbell Jr., W.D. Palmer and Annie Doris Willingham. The recall group, headed by Gwyneth Thomas, contended the City Council was not meeting the needs of the city’s residents and alleged acts of malfeasance, violations of oath of office, misconduct and breaking the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Judge Wayne Ellerby tossed out the recall effort. Many residents felt Davis was behind the recall with the aim of seating a more compliant City Council.

In December of last year, Davis temporarily boycotted several council meetings, alleging discrimination in areas ranging from the city cemetery, City Hall, the Camilla Police Department and in city employment practices. In addition, he was upset when the council amended the city charter.

Most recently, Davis took part in a movement to fire Camilla Housing Authority Director Joe Thomas twice in one day, requiring police intervention. Thomas is still on the job.

Camilla City Attorney Tommy Coleman said the recall of a public official is a difficult process. Coleman outlined a four-step process required by state law:

— The first application would require the signatures of 100 registered voters who were on the rolls during the last election Davis took part in. The petition must also list the reasons the elected official should be recalled. If the city’s elections superintendent determines the signatures are valid, the recall effort moves to the second step.

— The elected official being recalled has the opportunity to argue in Superior Court that the reasons for the recall are not sufficient. If the judge finds insufficient evidence to recall, he can end the process.

— If the judge allows the recall to move forward, the petitioners are given another petition from the state on which the signatures of 35 percent of voters in the last election the elected official was a part of.

— If the requisite 35 percent voter threshold is met and validated, then a citywide vote — which essentially reads “Shall the mayor of Camilla be removed from office?” — is called. If the measure is approved by a majority of voters, a special election is called to fill the office.

“It’s a rather long and complicated process,” Coleman said.

Writer with The Albany Herald.

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