Elected mayor of Newbern, Alabama sues to take control of government after incumbents change the locks

According to a lawsuit, the rural town of Newbern, Alabama–population 133–has been run by a clique of white residents for decades, presiding over the overwhelmingly black population without holding elections. The main plaintiff, Patrick Braxton, 57, is a black man who claims he filed the proper paperwork to compete in the 2020 election, and that because he was the only candidate who did so, he is now the town's elected mayor. When the situation was understood, according to the lawsuit, the incumbent mayor and town council held an illegal, unpublicized special election to formally install Haywood Stokes III, the acting mayor, in the position.

Braxton asked both Black and White residents to serve, but no White residents agreed to join his council, according to the lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, in August 2020, just weeks after his election, Stokes and his council members Gary Broussard, Jesse Donald Leverett, Voncille Brown Thomas and Willie Richard Tucker allegedly "met in secret to adopt a 'special' election ordinance." Notice of the meeting was not published, and the group set a special election for Oct. 6, 2020. 

No notice of that election was ever published, according to the lawsuit. Because the election was not publicized, only Stokes and his council members qualified. They then "effectively reappointed themselves" to their positions, Braxton alleged, and "unlawfully assumed their new terms" and were sworn in in November, even as Braxton assembled his own town council. 

The clique has admitted what they were doing, reports CBS News–and its position is that none of it was illegal.

In a response to Braxton's lawsuit, reviewed by CBS News, Stokes and his council "admit that Plaintiff Patrick Braxton is Black and is the former Mayor of the Town of Newbern," and denied many of the allegations. The defendants did admit that Braxton was the only person to qualify for mayor, and that no other candidates qualified for mayor or council membership. They admitted that a special election was held to put themselves in town council positions, and "admit that Defendant Stokes became Mayor of the Town of Newbern after Plaintiff Braxton lost the position by operation of law." 

It's not clear by what operation of law Braxton would have lost the position. 

Not one public town council meeting since 2020! Alabama has an Open Meetings Act, and here's an article about it which suggests it's formally potent but with loopholes (which don't seem to apply to the blatant violations alleged in Newbern) and lacking in consequences for offenders (which presumably would.)