Huntsville City Councilman Devyn Kieth was removed from the council's finance committee and had a travel request denied on Thursday during his first full council meeting since being arrested and accused of shoplifting from local Walmarts.
The mood was often tense during the meeting as Keith grew frustrated over being voted down on several issues, starting with his motion for leniency for parks and recreation employee Queron Wherry to serve a three-day suspension instead of 10 days, which was the recommendation of the personnel board.
Shortly after, council president John Meredith announced he was removing Keith from the finance committee, where Keith served as chairman and replacing him with District 3 Councilwoman Jennie Robinson.
"Before you go, could you give public reasoning?" Keith asked, seemingly caught off-guard.
Meredith simply responded, "No."
"The reason I said no, I'm not going to get into the explanation is because I don't want to wind up being subpoenaed in that issue," he said, apparently referring to Keith's ongoing legal troubles.
Things got more heated when the council approved a trip to Washington, D.C. for District 2 Councilman David Little and District 4 Councilman Bill Kling but not for Keith, who, unlike the others, would be over his travel budget for fiscal year 2023. Each councilman is allocated $4,000 for travel, Robinson said.
"I do want to reference, and it seems like this again, these potshots, even if we haven't in the past — I've been on the council six times — $4,000 was set in 1999," Keith said. "Due to inflation, it would be $8,000 today."
He added that "you cannot predict" the cost of a trip, and he had already spent $2,100 on a flight to Ohio.
"I want to reference that $4,000 is a reasonable respect out of, again, an ordinance that was created in 2000… Most departments inside of our city have double the budget we have in travel. Most cities … have six times the budget we have," Keith said.
Robinson said the time to address that issue would have been during previous budget discussions.
"We all voted on this budget," she said. "We all voted on the $4,000. We hold out department heads fiscally responsible … so I think we should hold ourselves fiscally responsible."
Keith still made a motion to have his trip approved.
"No second for discussion?" Keith asked, laughing under his breath incredulously.
"I cannot second because he has exceeded his budget," Robinson said.
Keith said Robison and other council members have in the past voted twice to approve travel for members who had exceeded their budget.
Keith voted to approve the travel for Kling and Little, whose current travel budgets are $2,466 and $4,000, respectively.
Meredith suggested Keith bring the issue up again at a future meeting and cover the gap in his travel budget by allocating funds from his district.
"This has never been an issue until recent times… It is, again, understandable, the public opinion — it is easy to be guilty before proven innocent," Keith said. "And it's unfortunate that my colleagues are trending towards that perspective, but I have to fully accept it."
"In my opinion, this has nothing to do with an ongoing situation. This has to do with being over budget," Meredith said.
"I don't believe that's your issue," Keith responded. "I believe that my other colleagues have made this decision. This has nothing to do with you."
Keith stands accused of shoplifting from several Walmarts in the Huntsville area on 31 separate occasions. He was first arrested last Thursday, February 2, and charged with fourth-degree theft of property amounting to $500 or less. He was again arrested and booked into Madison County Jail the following Wednesday morning on four counts of misdemeanor theft of property worth less than $500.
Keith issued a public apology at the council meeting on February 9 before recusing himself from the meeting.
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