- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - A Columbus City Council member has filed a suit against the city and Mayor Robert Smith.

A petition for preliminary injunction was filed last week in Lowndes County Chancery Court by Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner.

Turner claims Smith acted outside the scope of his authority in June when he ordered Turner’s city-issued cellphone disconnected.

“(Turner) has personal knowledge that respondents have unlawfully interrupted his work phone services and has caused tortuous interference with the (Turner’s) capacity as an elected official,” the petition reads. “The harm is unlawful and (Smith) has no lawful authority to interrupt services.”

The Commercial Dispatch reports (https://bit.ly/2exq55o ) Smith ordered service turned off June 13 after Turner made inflammatory statements on his Facebook page, including calling state Rep. Kabir Karriem a “b(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)h.”

“Councilman Turner used the city-owned phone for the data to publish these posts,” Smith said at the time. “Because of that, I am obligated as mayor not to allow the city to fund such activity. That is why I had the service turned off.”

However, Turner is disputing the mayor’s ability to have his cellphone service disconnected.

“I think he overstepped his bounds,” Turner said. “He should be corrected.”

Turner told The Dispatch on Wednesday the service disruption interfered with his First Amendment rights and his constituents’ ability to contact him. Turner also noted he was not warned before the service was disconnected.

He said the disconnection was another example of his ward being treated like a “red-headed stepchild.”

The city council voted Tuesday to hire outside counsel, local attorney Corky Smith, to defend against the suit.

“Since this lawsuit is from a city councilman to the city, it’s best to have outside council to defend it,” city attorney Jeff Turnage said.

Pontotoc attorney Walter Zinn is representing Turner.

Zinn said he and Turner sent a letter to Smith in September asking him to turn the cellphone service back on. He said he also called the mayor personally to make the request to no avail.

“The question is the legality of it,” Zinn said. “The mayor at no time has ever provided anything in writing to justify the action.”

“While the comments were inflammatory, we feel that Mr. Turner is still within his legal rights and the mayor unilaterally acted without authority,” Zinn added.

The petition seeks “payment for damages and costs sustained in light of the interruption of services,” any further compensatory damages awarded by the court, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

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

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