City council has to redo vote to terminate Kennedy’s employment

Published 2:44 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — When the Americus city council voted in a 4-2 decision to terminate the employment of city manager, Steve Kennedy on April 19, little did they know that they had not followed the proper procedure to do so.
According to the city charter, “The city council may remove the city manager at any time, with or without cause, by adopting a resolution to that effect. The city council shall have such authority whether or not there is an existing employment contract as provided in paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of this section, but such removal shall comply with the terms of any such contract which do not conflict with the provisions of this subsection. Within five days of adopting such resolution, the council shall provide written notice thereof to the city manager. The city manager, within ten calendar days after receipt of such notice, may in writing request a public hearing regarding the decision of the city council. Such hearing shall be held not earlier than 20 nor more than 30 calendar days after the submission of such hearing request. Any determination of the city council following any such hearing, however, shall be final. Upon the removal of the city manager, any severance required pursuant to such contract shall be paid in accordance with its terms.”
At that April 19 meeting, Council member Juanita Wilson had asked to add an item to the agenda — a closed session to discuss personnel. Following the 40-minute closed session, the body came back into open session and Wilson moved to terminate Kennedy’s employment, which was seconded by Daryl Dowdell. Voting for the termination were Wilson, Dowdell, Kelvin Pless and Nelson Brown. Voting against were Lou Chase and Charles Christmas. During the discussion prior to taking the vote, Chase commented that her only concern was how some of the council members were acting.
After city attorney, Jimmy Skipper advised the council that they acted out of accordance with the city charter, a special meeting was called for April 25 during which they would vote to terminate Kennedy and make a decision regarding his severance package. The council chambers was filled with citizens.
After Skipper reiterated why the matter had to be decided again, Mayor Barry Blount asked for a motion to go into closed session to discuss the personnel matter. Wilson made the motion which was seconded by Pless and passed unanimously.
At one point during the closed session, the mayor came out and motioned for the crowds to hold down the noise. Moments later, a uniformed police officer did the same, warning that if the noise level was not reduced that the crowd would have to wait in the lobby.
Following the one and one-quarter-hour closed session, the body moved again into open session.
Wilson read the resolution to terminate Kennedy with “no good cause” and to allow him to have his seven-month severance package with pay and benefits. Pless seconded the motion.
Skipper again explained that by adopting the resolution, the council was saying that terminating Kennedy’s employment for “no good cause” was saying that he had not done any of the nine things listed in his contract. Those nine are: conduct found to constitute a breach of the Employee’s duties listed in this agreement; arrest or conviction of a felony under federal or state law; arrest or conviction of a misdemeanor involving a crime of moral turpitude; employee fails or refuses to comply with the policies, standards and regulations, including, but not limited to applicable personnel ordinances and regulations of Employer; inappropriate or misuse of City credit card; employee abuses drugs or alcohol; willful violation of federal or state law; willful misconduct or insubordination; or actions that reflect poorly on the city.”
During the discussion prior to the vote, Council member Chase commented, “I do not agree with this termination at all.”
Nelson Brown thanked all the people in the audience for their attendance, “urging” people to “get it from the horse’s mouth.”
“You all are our bosses and we should be accountable to you,” Brown said. “We need to create unity.”
Paul Johnson, a member of the audience, stood and started objecting, but was gaveled down by the mayor. Another audience member, Allen Smith, also rose to speak, but was also gaveled. Americus Police Chief Mark Scott stepped up and told them, “This is not a public forum.”
Council member Christmas said he was not for the termination of Kennedy either, and “I’m very disappointed in this body. I think we’ve made a lot of progress since Mr. Kennedy’s been here.”
The vote was taken with Wilson, Dowdell, Pless and Brown voting for adoption of the resolution to fire Kennedy with no good cause, and Chase and Christmas voting against.
Following is the resolution in its entirety.
“WHEREAS, L. Steve Kennedy (hereinafter “City Manager”) has served as City Manager for the City of Americus since April 15, 2015; and
“WHEREAS, the employment of the City Manager was pursuant to a two-year Employment Agreement, the current Agreement being effective April 15, 2017, and expiring on April 15, 2019; and
“WHEREAS, on April 19, 2018, the City Council of the City of Americus (hereinafter “City Council”) voted by¬¬ a 4-2 vote to terminate the Employment Agreement with the City Manager; and
“WHEREAS, the vote for such termination was held in open session at a duly called meeting of the City Council under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, and the City Manager was present at the time the vote was taken; and
“WHEREAS, the City Council has now determined that the decision to terminate the Employment Agreement of the City Manager should have been undertaken by Resolution of the governing body of the City in accord with Section 3-101 (d) of the City Charter as currently in effect, and that certain other procedural actions and notices are required with respect to such termination; and
“WHEREAS, the City Council desires to adopt this Resolution terminating the Employment Agreement of the City Manager as required by the City Charter and the Employment Agreement.”
Kennedy had been city manager since early 2015. He was the first city manager after the city council voted to have the state Legislature change its charter from a city administrator form to the city manager.
The city paid Kennedy a base salary of $126,000 a year; as well as providing health, dental and vision benefits; life insurance; disability insurance; three weeks of vacation time every year; use of an automobile and a $700 per month car allowance; inclusion in the city’s retirement plan; use of a corporate credit card; professional dues and subscriptions, travel and subsistence expenses; short courses, institutes and seminars, and membership dues in local civic clubs or organizations.


What they said
Each of the four city council members who voted Thursday to terminate the employment of city manager, Steve Kenndy, was asked by the Times-Recorder, on the record, to give a reason.
Here’s what they said.
• Juanita Wilson, District 1, said, “No, we can’t do that. We voted the way we did because his contract it says if we give cause he can’t get his severance. We don’t believe in just killing a person; we want him to get his severance.”
• Daryl Dowdell, District 6, said, “Thank you for the opportunity. I won’t give an answer but check his [Kennedy’s] contract and you’ll see that we didn’t vote to just get rid of him but to allow him to get his severance. Last night [Wednesday] was not to get rid of him but to give him his severance pay and two council members voted against it. I don’t like it when people make it black and white when it’s not. That’s not the issue with me.”
• Kelvin Pless, District 5, said, “I don’t want to give a specific reason. Mr. Skipper spelled it out in the contract. The decision was based on ‘without good cause’ out of respect for him [Kennedy]. Thank you for the opportunity.”
• Nelson Brown, District 2, did not respond to a phone message.