Eddie Pullins who was suspended as airport board chairman Jan. 11 is suing Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark.
Pullins was suspended by a unanimous vote of the Madison Fiscal Court.
At the meeting where Pullins was suspended, Clark said there had been a “serious breakdown in communication between the board and the fiscal court as well as the governments of Berea and Richmond.” All three governments jointly own the airport.
Pullins had “not done all he could do,” to resolve the issue, Clark said at the meeting.
According to a lawsuit filed Jan. 21 in Madison Circuit Court, Pullins is suing Clark as an individual and in his official role as judge-executive.
Pullins claims Clark violated Pullins’ constitutional rights to due process, and through remarks published in a letter, caused emotional distress to Pullins.
The lawsuit also claims that according to state law, if a combination of cities or counties or both, establishes a joint airport board, the mayors and county judge/executives involved are to jointly choose six members and jointly choose successors.
“Nothing in the legislation involves the fiscal court, board of commissioners or council in approving the members of the airport board since (state law) provides specifically that it shall be done by the mayors and the judge/executive,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, on Jan. 4, Clark called Pullins and asked him to “call off” an airport board meeting scheduled for that day. Pullins told Clark he couldn’t call off the meeting and Clark responded by threatening to take Pullins off the board, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims that on Jan. 11, Pullins received a phone call from Clark informing him he had been “taken off” the board. Pullins claims in the lawsuit that a letter sent to him informing him of his suspension from the board never was received.
“The plaintiff (Pullins) was never advised that he had a right to a hearing so as to afford him due process in his suspension and removal from the airport board,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that state law only allows for the “replacement of a board member by the appointing authority for misconduct as a board member or upon conviction of a felony.”
Pullins’ attorney, Jimmy Dale Williams, sent a letter to Clark notifying him of the alleged violations of the law. Through the suit, Pullins claims that Clark’s response may be defamatory.
“The response exhibits a continuing willful disregard for the law and the constitutional rights of the plaintiff; and the letter has been published and sent to 13 other individuals alleging the plaintiff (Pullins) may have engaged in conduct which could be considered criminal without stating specifically what that conduct is; and the publication of this defamatory letter to at least 13 other individuals is calculated to cause extreme emotional distress and upset to the plaintiff since the allegation of possible criminal conduct on his part is untrue,” the lawsuit stated.
In the letter written on Madison County letterhead and dated Jan. 19, which is part of court documents associated with the lawsuit, Clark said that according to airport bylaws unanimously approved by the airport board Oct. 5, 2010, and signed by Pullins, the fiscal court had the right to suspend Pullins.
“I would like to think that you (Williams) as a practicing attorney in Richmond, would have at least looked at the bylaws of the current Madison County Airport. ... Never in my 17 years as County Judge has the mayor of Berea or Richmond ever had to approve an appointment by Fiscal Court and likewise Fiscal Court has never had to approve a City appointment.
“I have also read (state law) and have a very different opinion than you do. Mr. Pullins’ actions dealing with the affairs and business of the Airport go way beyond misconduct and in some cases could be considered criminal. In closing, perhaps you should listen to both sides of the argument before writing a threatening and somewhat silly letter,” Clark said in the letter.
Clarks’ letter was carbon-copied to Marc Robbins, county attorney; Garrett Fowles, Richmond city attorney; J.T. Gilbert, Berea city attorney; Berea Mayor Stephen Connelly; Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes; Magistrates Larry Combs, Roger Barger and Billy Ray Hughes; Pullins; George Wyatt, acting airport board chairman, and board members Dr. Wilma Walker, Chester Powell, Dr. Adrienne Millett and Ken Schwendeman.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 21, just three days after Clarks’ letter was sent.
The letter also said that according to the approved airport bylaws, article three dealing with membership, “The six members of the Board shall be appointed as follows; two each by the mayors of Berea and Richmond, and two by the Madison County Judge Executive. Members of the Board shall serve without compensation but shall be allowed any reasonable expenses incurred by them in the conduct of the affairs of the Board. Members shall serve terms of four (4) years. A Board member may be replaced by the appointing authority upon showing to the authority of misconduct as a Board member or upon conviction of a felony.”
The lawsuit also states that Pullins will suffer “immediate and irreparable harm,” if the court does not grant him an injunction against Clark prohibiting him from removing Pullins from the airport board, and requests a hearing be held on a preliminary injunction.
Pullins also asks through the lawsuit that the court determine specifically who the “appointing authority” of the airport board is and to declare that Clark is not the appointing authority and declare his actions removing Pullins from the board “null and void.”
“The conduct of the defendant (Clark) is malicious and intentional and in violation of the constitutional rights of the plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit. “The conduct of the defendant has defamed the plaintiff by alleging and insinuating that the plaintiff has engaged in misconduct as a member of the Madison Airport board and that some of his actions could be considered criminal.”
Pullins also states through the lawsuit that as a consequence of being defamed, his reputation in the community has been damaged and a “dark pale” cast upon it.
Pullins seeks not only the injunction and the judgment declaring Clark cannot suspend Pullins from the board, but also a jury trial and punitive damages.
This includes, “Money in excess of $4,000 but less than $75,000 which will adequately compensate the plaintiff for his loss and damages including punitive damages and for an award of a reasonable attorney fee and costs.”