|By William F. West, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
July 21, 2004 - A Montgomery motel has lost its right to do business -- and the owner's attorney is saying he may be going to court claiming alleged racial prejudice against his clients, who are natives of India.
The attorney, Wayne Sabel, made the remarks Tuesday night after the City Council revoked the license of the Valu Inn, 1015 W. South Blvd., after motel owner Chiranji Sharma faced intense questioning from some council members, chiefly Janet May, about having an allegedly disreputable business.
During a council hearing, May asked Sharma, "You see nothing wrong with what you're operating on the South West Boulevard of the city of Montgomery?"
Sharma tried to answer, but May continued firing questions, such as "Are you aware of what you see?" "Do you see anything wrong with what you're operating?" and "Do you see anything wrong with the physical facility?"
"We're trying to fix everything that we see now," Sharma said.
May asked Sharma whether someone had to tell him that he did not have a suitable operation or that he determined it out of common decency.
"I don't see why not," Sharma replied.
"That's the problem with the facility," May retorted. "You don't see why not."
Sabel moments earlier had told May that it was in Sharma's best interest to have a nice place of business but pointed out that Sharma is not a multinational corporation. Sabel immediately afterward claimed that Sharma was neither given a fair hearing nor legal due process.
The Valu Inn became a center of attention late last month and earlier this month after complaints by Councilman Cornelius "C.C." Calhoun, in whose district the motel is located.
A City Council ad-hoc committee was formed to investigate conditions at the Valu Inn and an adjacent abandoned wing owned by Dr. S.C. Kaushik. The committee, led by Calhoun, heard from police, who said the area is a haven for prostitution and illegal drug dealing. City and county health inspectors, at the ad-hoc committee's request, also looked at the properties and found major building and sanitary violations.
The committee recommended giving Sharma 30 days to correct the most urgent needs and 90 days to address lesser citations on the list. But the full council declined to accept the recommendations and instead decided to have a hearing Tuesday night.
Sabel told the council at Tuesday night's hearing that Sharma has been making a good faith effort to correct the major violations. City Inspections Director Dory Brunson told the council that Sharma has made about 50 percent progress on remedying the major violations.
But Calhoun said he was concerned about maintaining standards to a gateway to the city and allowing Sharma to "operate this type business" within the city. He said he believed what Sharma was doing was a "Band-Aid" and a "quick fix."
Calhoun accused Sharma of making a mockery of the council. "This place is the pits," the councilman said, prompting Sabel to object to what he saw as berating.
The council unanimously revoked Sharma's business license, but decided the abandoned wing owned by Kaushik should either be repaired in 30 days or be demolished. The council had considered a recommendation for emergency demolition because Brunson had said it was a fire hazard.
Though Kaushik has since boarded up the building and cleaned it out, Brunson said it is still structurally unsound because it had long been abandoned and had been inadequately maintained.
Kaushik had a business license for the building, but he agreed to surrender it Tuesday night. He has maintained that he just wants to get the property off his hands.
Still, Sabel said afterward: "I'm very troubled by the fact that both of my clients, although they are naturalized U.S. citizens, their national origin is Indian. And they are being treated less favorably than persons whose national origin is the USA. And we think this is a federal cause of action here. And we intend to pursue it."
Sabel claimed both Sharma and Kaushik were questioned interchangeably by the city, with Sharma questioned about problems on Kaushik's property and Kaushik questioned about problems on Sharma's property.
"These are two individual citizens of the city of Montgomery -- and there's no reason to treat them as if they're responsible for the other's property just because they have a similar national origin and do not have a huge political constituency," Sabel said.
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