- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - The City of Columbus and Mayor Robert Smith contend Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner’s use of a city cellphone was a gross misuse of city property and are demanding he refund the city for the data overage charges accumulated.

The Commercial Dispatch (https://bit.ly/2hmmbkp ) reports the claim is included in the city’s response to Turner’s lawsuit filed in October after Smith ordered his phone service disconnected.

City attorney Courtney Smith filed the city’s response Tuesday in Lowndes County Chancery Court. It states that Turner’s phone was “specifically for municipal purposes,” making the phone, its plan and Turner’s use of both public property. The response claims the fact that Turner used it to provide wireless internet for neighborhood teenagers and made personal posts on Facebook constituted a misuse of public property.

An analysis by the newspaper found Turner used approximately 70 percent of all cell data consumed by city councilmen last fiscal year. Turner’s total cell usage cost the city nearly $3,000.

The city contends Turner’s alleged misuse is an unlawful donation, and Turner should refund the city and pay exemplary damages.

“The payment of those overage charges is considered an unlawful donation under the Mississippi Constitution,” the city attorney said. “And so the city has a duty to taxpayers to try to recover those monies that were expended from the overage.”

The response did not say how much money Turner should refund the city, but Smith said he thought it was about $2,800.

Smith also filed a motion to dismiss Turner’s petition.

Turner’s attorney, Walter Zinn, said the mayor overstepped his authority by confiscating the phone and that he has no legal authority to discipline a councilman.

“The councilman … can only be disciplined by the board, not the mayor,” Zinn said. “So, unless board action has been taken against Councilman Turner regarding these things, it seems like the response is a little off because it seems to ignore Councilman Turner’s capacity as a councilman.”

The mayor declined comment on the court filing.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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