Lowndes County sues SCABC; Escambia not involved

Published 4:35 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Lowndes County Commission is looking to hire an attorney to handle a lawsuit involving itself, Karl Bell and the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC).

SCABC officials had approached officials with Escambia County to seek approval to begin work in an attempt to provide an infrastructure in rural areas to make broadband network service available to rural residents across the state.

Escambia County commissioners had posed a list of questions for SCABC officials before making a decision to become involved in the project. Since answers to those questions never materialized, officials did not approve participation for the county.

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In a story by Fred Guarino in The Greenville Advocate, Lowndes County officials agreed to move forward with a lawsuit on behalf of the county.

At the request of Lowndes County Attorney Hank Sanders at a recent Lowndes County Commission meeting, the commission voted unanimously to allow Commissioner Carnell McAlpine to negotiate with attorney Christmas Green in Selma to take over a portion of the county’s legal matters.

Lowndes County Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior confirmed that a lawsuit was filed in Lowndes County Circuit Court against Karl Bell and the SCABC, and that the action taken by the commission last week was to hire an attorney to handle that case.

Sanders said he could not comment on the action taken last week, but confirmed that he remains the county’s attorney.

The lawsuit filed Feb. 25 in Lowndes County Circuit Court is between the Lowndes County Commission and defendants Karl Bell and Hayneville Plaza LLC and the South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District.

The lawsuit against Bell and the SCABC seeks compensatory damages for breach of contract, $500,000 to be placed in escrow and cost of litigation be paid by the defendants.

Hayneville Plaza was supposed to house the headquarters for the broadband effort.  In June 2011, Lowndes County commissioners voted to float a bond to purchase the building for $3.2 million.

The suit claims Bell, the owner of the building, agreed to provide $500,000 to help offset the bond payments until the effort could get off the ground. The county claims when officials deposit the check, it was returned, and has not been made good.

On Feb. 6, a lawsuit was also filed by the commission against the South Central Broadband Cooperative. It asks that rent money collected by the SCABC is property of the Lowndes County Commission, the SCABC be stopped from expending other funds, the SCABC make a full accounting of money collected and spent and the balance of money be paid to the county commission.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration pulled the $59 million in grant money after it said Trillion Communications, the contractor hired for the project, had done little work to complete the project.

The money was to be used to create a broadband network that would have connected approximately 15,000 homes and 800 institutions in Butler, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox Counties.

Officials with SCABC said last month that they have found a new source of funding and plan to continue the project.