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Court puts in new Greensboro mayor, jury takes pro tem out

GREENSBORO (AP) — Greensboro has switched mayors because of a state Supreme Court ruling and now has lost a mayor pro tem because of a jury's verdict.

On Tuesday, new Mayor Va-nessa Hill was meeting town employees, going over records and handling other duties she should have begun two years ago.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday that she won the 2004 mayor's race rather than Johnnie B. Washington, who had served as mayor of the west Alabama town for the last two years.

Later in the day Friday, a Hale County jury convicted Mayor Pro Tem Valada Paige of felony welfare fraud. Because of the conviction, she automatically forfeited her municipal office, Attorney General Troy King said Tuesday.

Paige was convicted of first-degree theft of $8,758 — the amount she received in food stamps over a 10-month period. King said Paige applied for food stamps in 2001, claiming she was broke when she had received $132,400 in April 2001 from a settlement over the diet pill known as "fen-phen."

"It is outrageous that anyone who had tens of thousands of dollars would steal welfare funds that are needed desperately by those who truly have little or nothing," King said.

Hill, a singer-songwriter, was in Nashville working on a re-cording when she got the news of the Supreme Court's ruling Friday. She returned home to Greensboro, took the oath of office Saturday, and spent Monday and Tuesday settling into her first political office.

Hill said the transition had gone smoothly and she was starting to meet the town's 23 employees Tuesday.

She said her goal for running in 2004 was to help reinvigorate the low-income town of 2,730. Now, she said she will have to work harder to do that with only two years left on her term.

"It needs a lot of improvement — both structurally and the mentality of the people," she said.

Hill's attorney, Walter Bras-well, said he will ask the state Examiners of Public Accounts to perform an audit of the town's financial records because he is concerned about its financial status and wants to provide a starting point for the new mayor.

In a mayoral runoff election on Sept. 14, 2004, Washington polled 762 votes and Hill 672. Washington took office, but Hill challenged the election.

A Montgomery judge threw out 148 of Washington's absentee votes as illegal and eight of Hill's. That made Hill the winner 664 to 614. But Washington remained in office until the Supreme Court ruled in Hill's favor Friday.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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