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UPDATED: Lanett Mayor pleads guilty, is immediately removed from office

Lanett Mayor Kyle McCoy pled guilty Wednesday and was convicted of two felony ethics violations. He was immediately removed from office and is barred from holding future public office, according to a press release from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, McCoy admitted that he used his position as mayor to provide a city-owned Chevrolet Tahoe to a family member for a period of seven months. McCoy’s family member was not employed with the City of Lanett and had no government purpose in possessing the vehicle. McCoy’s unlawful actions resulted in his personal gain, which included savings on the cost of a replacement vehicle and insurance as well as money for fuel and maintenance, according to the press release.

McCoy further admitted to using his position as mayor to avoid paying for city utility services (gas, electric, water, sewage and garbage) on seven different accounts. Beginning at various times between June 2017 and April 2018, McCoy ceased paying utility bills. By Aug. 2019, McCoy owed more than $41,000 to the City of Lanett. At that time, McCoy directed a city employee to put a hold on these accounts, which resulted in McCoy no longer incurring minimum fees and late charges as well as his accounts being removed from the city’s “cut-off” list. McCoy paid the $41,232.84 balance seven months later in March 2020, but he did not pay any late charges or minimum fees for the period of time his accounts were on a hold, according to the press release from Marshall’s office. Pursuant to the plea agreement, McCoy agreed to pay those unpaid fees and charges, which equal $2,069, as restitution to the City of Lanett.

McCoy will pay another $12,124 in restitution to the city for money spent on personal items and gifts not related to city government. In total, McCoy will pay the city $14,193.45 in restitution.

“McCoy’s actions are appalling violations of the citizens’ trust and brazen abuses of his authority as mayor,” said Attorney General Marshall. “The people of Lanett deserve leadership with honor and integrity. It is important that McCoy now is removed from office, that he may not be in a position to betray the public trust in the future, and that he is being held to account and punished for his crimes.”

Chambers County Circuit Judge Steve Perryman set a sentencing hearing for Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. McCoy faces penalties of two to 20 years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000 for each of the two convictions, which are class B felonies.

Attorney General Steve Marshall thanked the staff of his Special Prosecutions Division, noting in particular Assistant Attorney General Kyle Beckman and the division’s investigators.

Under Alabama Code § 11-44G-2, now that McCoy has been convicted, the Lanett City Council can fill the vacancy either from the county’s ranks or from outside the council.

According to the code, if the vacancy is not filled within 60 days, each city council member may submit a name to the governor for appointment. If the governor fails to make an appointment from any submitted names within 90 days after the vacancy occurs, the judge of probate shall call a special election to fill the vacancy.

On Tuesday, McCoy changed his plea from not guilty to guilty and is seeking a pre-sentencing investigation. In the Tuesday filing in the office of Chambers County Circuit Clerk Lisa Burdette, McCoy’s attorney William L. “Bill” Smith made notification for the change of plea. The court was notified that the defendant was offering to plead guilty to counts one and two of the indictment against him. No mention was made of count three, which involved personal purchases made on a city account in an amount equal to or a portion of $643.84.

The notice of intent issued Tuesday seeks a hearing and for there to be a pre-sentencing investigation.

The Valley Times-News reached out to McCoy’s attorney, William Smith, and McCoy. McCoy did not comment, and Smith could not be reached for comment.

Lanett City Council members had mixed reactions to the conviction.

“I am befuddled and surprised,” said Councilman Charles Looser. “I didn’t know that had happened.”

Looser said he didn’t know if the conviction would create distrust between the City of Lanett and the community. He said the council hasn’t had much discussion about McCoy’s indictment.

“There’s nothing really for me to say right now,” Councilwoman Angelia Thomas said. “I’m just praying for Mr. [McCoy] and we, as the city of Lanett, will go forward and keep progressing.”

Thomas said she doesn’t think McCoy’s conviction will create distrust between the city and community.

“We’re going to take care of the city,” she said. “We’re going to do what we need to do to see it move forward.”

Out of all the council members, Councilman Tifton Dobbs had the most to say.

“It’s not a happy moment for me, personally,” he said. “… I’m overwhelmed with what has happened, what went on, and how things took place as far as the ethics violations. But at the same time, we all took an oath when we came into office.”

Dobbs said that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. He said McCoy may have not known he was breaking the law. He said that in order for city officials to do their jobs correctly, they have to know what laws and duties they’re supposed to follow, as well as what they shouldn’t do.

“I felt like that has a whole lot to do with what transpired here, is not knowing the laws,” he said, arguing that city employees should be sent to training to prevent mistakes like McCoy’s. He used the example of a city landscaper asking a supervisor if they could borrow a weed eater to use at home.

“I could see one of their supervisors saying, ‘Oh, just take care of it. Bring it back.’ just that quick,” he said. “It’s an ethics violation.”

He said that if McCoy had known that he might get convicted a week or so before it happened, it would have been transparent of him to warn the council ahead of time, especially to give Mayor Pro Tem Jamie Heard time to prepare for McCoy’s absence. The Lanett City Council met Monday night and McCoy led that meeting.

Dobbs thinks the City of Lanett will have to earn back the community’s trust as the result of McCoy’s conviction. He believes they can do this by honoring their oaths of office, behaving ethically and undergoing ethics training.

Councilman Jamie Heard, who is also the mayor pro tem, said he didn’t have any comments about McCoy’s conviction. He said he’ll inherit the mayor’s duties while the city looks for a new mayor.

McCoy, whose case had already been referred to the attorney general’s office, was elected mayor of Lanett last fall by a comfortable margin.

When he was first indicted in February, McCoy said the attorney general’s office and others were “trying to destroy his character,” and he “emphatically” denied any wrongdoing.

Valley Times-News contributor Wayne Clark contributed to this story.