16 people address mayor at public hearing

Published 4:08 pm Monday, June 4, 2018

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — Another packed house greeted the Mayor and City Council at a public hearing Thursday concerning the recent firing of Steve Kennedy as city manager.
First, Mayor Barry Blount stated the purpose of the public hearing. Then, city attorney, Jimmy Skipper reviewed the requirements of the hearing as outlined in the city charter. He said that when a city manager is terminated, with or without cause, there are time limits that must be met. On April 25, the council approved a resolution to terminate Kennedy’s employment. The charter states that the council must give written notice within five days. That was done through the city’s personnel office, he said. The charter says the city manager has 10 calendar days to ask for a hearing on his termination, which Kennedy did. The charter does not require the city manager to be present at the public hearing.
Skipper then outlined the rules and regulations, per the charter, for those who speak during the hearing. Only the mayor can recognize those wishing to speak. All comments must be directed to the mayor and must adhere to the subject matter of the hearing. All other comments must be ruled out of order. Each speaker is limited to five minutes.
Dee Jones, the city’s human resources director, then read the letter to the mayor and council from Kennedy, which was published in its entirety in a city council story published in the Times-Recorder’s May 26 edition.
Sixteen speakers took the podium one by one. Mary Lafevers of Overlook Road brought up Kennedy’s service to the cities of Kennesaw and Commerce and how he had “turned around” those communities. She said all the people deserve an explanation as to why Kennedy was fired. “It’s a terrible, terrible shame,” she said.
William Graham, a resident of South Lee Street, asked the mayor if the city is required to tell an employee why they are fired and he mayor said he thought it should be but that was his opinion and he deferred to Skipper who said there is nothing in the charter addressing that except “with good cause or without good cause.” Graham asked Blount if there is an evaluation system for city employees and Blount said yes but couldn’t recall what Kennedy’s evaluations we when Graham asked.
Graham asked what had happened to transparency in government. “Do we, the taxpayers and voters, have the right to know why the city manager was fired?” asked Graham to which Blount replied “yes.” He then asks Blount why Kennedy was terminated and the mayor said, “that I do not know.” Being that the rules say the speaker can’t ask questions of council members and the mayor can’t either, Graham became more visibly frustrated. “Does this seem right to you, Mr. Mayor? You’re the leader of this city.” The mayor responded, “I was not in favor of the termination.” The mayor does not vote except to break a tie and the vote to fire Kennedy was 4-2.
Joe Daniel, a resident of West College Street, said he agreed with the prior two speakers. He then quoted some scripture.
Craig Walker of Buttercup Lane was up next. He complained that Kennedy was slow in fixing a problem with the street on Cotton Avenue in front of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. He described Kennedy’s personality as “low energy.” He said citizens need a city manager who will represent all citizens.
Paul Johnson, a resident of Howard Johnson Road, who is the stepfather of Jody Smith, one of the two officers killed in the line of duty here in December 2016, first thanked the city for the compassion shown to him and his family during and since that time. He said it took a tragedy to bring the community together. “If you’re not to give a reason [for firing Kennedy],” he said, “a lot of us are going to think it’s racial. We heard from Mr. Brown [City Council member Nelson Brown] … but his ‘political speak’ didn’t say anything. You have an obligation to explain it.”
Roger Jackson of Porter Street had one question: “why isn’t Mr. Kennedy up here telling his side of the story?”
Nathan Poole, a resident of Hosanna Circle, veered off subject and talked about not being allowed to address mayor and council “for three or four years.” He said it was racial. He also criticized Kennedy for not fixing the drainage problems in his neighborhood. He said to forget about black and white and focus on compromise within the city to get things done.
Wade Bartlett of West Dodson Street said that Kennedy was told by four city council members that they didn’t want him anymore, but now the citizens want to know why. Bartlett asked if Brown could speak to which the mayor responded no, not until he had received all the public comments. The mayor gaveled Craig Walker and an unidentified man and told them that if they spoke out “one more time,” he would have them leave. When Walker muttered something again, the mayor verbally ejected him from the meeting.
Dorothy Peterson, a resident of Jenkins Road, told the mayor that she owns property in the county and the city. She got off subject as well and tried to tell the mayor about a $3,000 water bill on her property on South Dudley Street. After the mayor pointed this out, Peterson said Kennedy wouldn’t help her with her problem and nothing was done. She brought up race as well.
Michael Moree of Barlow Street said he didn’t know Steve Kennedy and never had any direct dealings with him but “where evidence and hard facts are absent, speculation and wild rumors will begin. And if you do not want rumor to spread or … crazy imaginings to spread,” the best thing is for council to be straight with the citizens about what happened.”
Scott Anderson of Dogwood Hills, spoke as an employer, saying he understands “with cause and without cause.” He suggested that the council communicate if an employee is doing a good job or not before they hire a new city manager.
Tracy Hall of South Lee Street told about how Kennedy had worked to hire Mark Scott as police chief and all the improvements in the department since.
Kirk Lyman Barner of Lakewood Avenue said Kennedy had helped them get some property for the recent building of a couple of houses by the Fuller Center for Housing. As an employer, he said employers have legal liability when someone’s position is terminated. “Is there an agenda we don’t know about? he asked. “Is the agenda to go back to the day when department heads did not report to the city manager but the town council had a bigger hand in working with the city employees? … It feels like, from listening … is the council would like to be a better friend to the city and that might be hard to do when everyone reports to the city manager … Also, what’s next? Who’s next? We would like to be reassured that that’s not what’s going on … ”
Ricky Arnold lives on Williams Road. He said he and Kennedy were close “as Christians.” He said his problem is that the city has evaluations and there should be a pattern of doing something or not doing something … “and not just an arbitrary reason.”
Allen Smith of Sam Bradley Road told the mayor that every time he called Kennedy that Kennedy either answered the phone or called him back. He said Kennedy had hired some good people while he was here. He said there’s a problem because there’s little trust in the mayor and city council because “there’s something going on that ain’t being told.” Smith said he couldn’t understand how you can fire someone and then give him a $100,000 severance package.
Clifford Morgan of Winn Street told the mayor he has addressed the body before but nothing has ever been done to solve the problems in his neighborhood. He said it’s not fair to do something for one person and not for all.
William Graham attempted to speak again but Skipper, reading from the charter, said each person has five minutes only.
Next up, in part 2, Council member Nelson Brown speaks again, among others.