Just who is in charge in Port Wentworth has ended up a struggle of types among some council members and the mayor. The instant difficulty is whether or not the mayor, because the chief administrator of the city, can stop an ongoing trial with the aid of a few to fire town legal professional Jimmy Coursey. More broadly, the question includes whether the council on my own can lease and fire town public officials, which includes the metropolis legal professional. The issue erupted for the second time on the town’s everyday council assembly Thursday night, as Councilman Thomas Barbee made three motions to hearth Coursey.
They circulate through Barbee accompanied by a closed-door session that Coursey had informed the council changed into improper. Coursey stated a lack of public is aware that the schedule no longer has specifics for an executive or closed session. Coursey first told the council that any discussions on whether to preserve a closed session concerning pending litigation should be inside the open.
“No one has consulted the town attorney to speak about whether or not to preserve a closed meeting for the motive of agreement of pending litigation,” Coursey stated. “If you close up that door to talk about anything aside from the agreement — immediately, beneath any guise or subterfuge — this may be an illegal meeting under the open meetings act.”
The upskirt case
Coursey became talking approximately a lawsuit filed towards the city using council member Debbie Johnson. The lawsuit became filed by way of Johnson following the Facebook posting of an upskirt photo of her taken in a council assembly through former council member Ernie Stanhope. Johnson filed a match in July 2017, mentioning in her grievance that the photo turned into taken “exposing among my legs,” and that then-mayor Glenn Jones and different members of council considered the image and “perpetuated” the distribution of the image.
The in shape names the metropolis, Jones, Stanhope, former council individuals Barbara Powers, Judson Bowers, Tim Holbrook, and contemporary council member Bill Herrin as defendants within the case. “I will no longer step into that closed room with a celebration plaintiff who does no longer have a legal professional present,” Coursey said, relating to Johnson. Coursey additionally admonished the council that the schedule item for the closed or government session listed no required exceptions to the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
Council contributors can cross into private conferences for restrained motives: pending litigation, real property acquisition, and employees. Those exceptions must be listed on the agenda to offer the general public right to observe what councils and different authorities bodies can be doing. Coursey then stated he understood a personnel count number became deliberate for that closed-door dialogue, and it wasn’t listed on the schedule, either.
Coursey pointed again to Georgia’s Open Meetings Act in announcing that no proof or argument concerning the termination of a public officer (city worker) may be provided behind closed doorways. “It must be made in an open meeting,” Coursey said. “Since it is my know-how that proof of a few bogus, fraudulent nameless letters can be supplied in the meeting, it has to be completed within the open. To do in any other case would be every other violation of the open meetings act.”
Violations of Georgia’s Open Meetings Act are punishable with the aid of a fine of as much as $1,000. Any moves taken at some stage in the unlawful meeting are void. Violators also are a situation to don’t forget.
Hiring, firing choices
Council members Johnson, Bill Herrin — who’s one of the city defendants in Johnson’s suit — stayed out of the closed-door meeting. Barbee’s motions to hearth Coursey were met with direct words from Mayor Norton.
“That will not appear this night, Thomas Barbee,” Norton stated. Barbee fast answered.
“If you do now not execute your job, you may be removed, and the mayor’s seasoned team will proceed with our town council meeting,” Barbee said. “And Jimmy Coursey need to recognize that it is the law; he’s the legal profession,” Coursey said a recent opinion on Port Wentworth’s shape of government by way of a legislative suggest member in Atlanta differs from his. The letter solicited via State Sen. Lester Jackson states the 1957 metropolis charter provides for the mayor and council to make hiring and firing choices together. Ordinances authorized in later years kingdom the metropolis administrator or mayor can make the one’s selections.
“We have a difference of opinion,” Coursey said.
Barbee’s motion to hearth Coursey and his regulation company did now not receive a second. The council then agreed to seek every other opinion from a legal professional with the Georgia Municipal Association and/or an attorney with no connections to Port Wentworth. Following the assembly, Coursey said he couldn’t speak subjects from the closed consultation, consisting of the alleged nameless note problem.
Councilmember Thomas Barbee was requested by way of the Savannah Morning News with the aid of e-mail as to why he desires to fireplace Coursey. “You don’t need my comment as a way to twist the truth besides have a pleasant day!!!” Barbee wrote.
The first try
In May 2018, council participants Thomas Barbee, Shari Dyal, and previous council member Paul Fox held an unlawful vote at the back of closed doorways to fireplace Coursey. Councilmember Debbie Johnson changed into absent from the assembly. Georgia Open Meetings laws are express in that votes are to be made in public.
The vote led the city’s then-intervening time town administrator, Carter Crawford, to resign instantaneously. Carter said at the time he turned into leaving due to the illegal vote and other issues. Carter also stated the firing become based on something “petty.” A referred to a council meeting held one week later had the mayor announcing the metropolis had a sturdy mayor shape of the presidency, based totally on Coursey’s opinion. The city council had no authority to hearth any town employees.