Fannin sworn in office, at least for now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pike County Commission’s newest member Oren Fannin was sworn into office Monday — but just barely.

After spending nearly an hour behind closed doors, Probate Judge Wes Allen came out to perform Fannin’s official oath of office.

But after District 6 Commissioner Fannin vowed before a crowded courtroom to perform the duties of the office, he told the crowd just why they were kept in waiting.

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“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this, but I’m going to be honest with you,” Fannin said. “Ms. Berry’s attorney called and tried to stop this from happening.”

Fannin’s attorney Joel Lee Williams said when a judge issues an order, there is 42 days that the parties can appeal a verdict.

“Karen’s lawyer, as I understand, said you can’t swear him in because it is stayed for 30 days,” Williams said.

That is based on Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, that says a judgment can’t be executed for 30 days.

But, Williams said that type of rule typically applies when parties are suing for money or property.

Williams argued the nature of this ruling was more like a divorce in that once the order is issued, you don’t have to wait 30 days to take effect.

There has been no appeal filed at this time. If Berry chooses to appeal, she has to file notice of appeal within the Pike County Circuit Court, and the state Supreme Court would determine whether to hear the trial.

Allen would not comment extensively on just what happened but simply said there was a “legal argument” before the probate court Monday.

“We regret the delay, but after research and extensive dialogue, it was determined that Oren Fannin was to be sworn in based on Circuit Judge Joel Holley’s order,” Allen said.

Fannin told the room full of supporters that he wasn’t sure just what may happen next, but for now at least, he will be the county commissioner.

“If they file an appeal, she may get a stay,” Fannin said. “For now, I’m your commissioner.”

Williams said there is still a chance Berry could regain the rights to her office, but only if Judge Holley granted a stay pending her appeal.

And as commissioner, a position Fannin has fought hard to obtain, he said the county debt is at the heart of his concerns.

Some of the district’s voters gathered in the courtroom, were pleased to see their new representative take the seat.

“I think he’s a good, quiet, honest person,” said Bill Flinn, a voter of District 6. “He’s got a hard job ahead of him because being a county commissioner is not always easy, and there’s never enough money to run the county.”

But, after battling Berry’s six-vote win in the Pike County Circuit Court for nearly a year, Flinn said it is a victory he hopes will bring more accountability to local government.

“I think it’s brought more honesty to county government,” Flinn said.

Even some commissioners said they hope the verdict will stick with those in office and those who vote.

“I hope it makes people who are running more aware there are rules that have to be followed, and the end result (of not) is what you see here,” said Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan. District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron seconded Sullivan’s hopes. “I think where we are now is going to help our voting process be better in the future,” Barron said. “This has got everybody’s attention, as well as the commission’s.”

Berry, who has served on the commission several years prior to retaking office in 2008, was found to have won the election with illegal absentee votes. Despite that, Sullivan said he doesn’t believe this will impact the reputation of the commission as a whole.

“The commission didn’t have anything to do with it,” Sullivan said. “This was about the wrongdoing in the election process. The judge made a ruling, and we all lived with it.”

Fannin, who is a Democrat, will give the Democratic Party the majority on the commission for the first time since 2004.

But, neither Democrat or Republican commissioners said the party lines make a dividing difference.

“I don’t think the county government is as much of a partisan government,” said Sullivan, who is Republican.

Republican Barron said he doesn’t believe political parties ever impact commission decisions.

“In my opinion partisan doesn’t play a role at all,” Barron said. “We vote on issues only.”

And District 1 Commissioner Homer Wright, a Democrat, agreed. “It’s not a party thing. It’s something we do to help benefit the people of the county,” Wright said.

At his swearing in, Fannin said this move now just means its all official, and for the moment at least, he can be glad it’s all said and done.

“All of you know what a long, hard battle this has been,” Fannin said.