It looks like 2013 is picking up exactly where 2012 ended for the Peachtree City council - at sword’s point.
At Thursday night’s meeting, mayor Don Haddix and councilman George Dienhart squared off against each other in an argument over Haddix’s statement regarding legal fees, with Haddix, at one point, threatening to oust Dienhart from the meeting and Dienhart calling to have Haddix ousted as chairman of the meeting.
The argument escalated after Haddix presented his statement on the legal fees the city had incurred after the council voted to reduce his salary, faced a lawsuit and ultimately decided to settle it. Haddix said he waited, not saying anything, until the legal costs for the city were ready to be reported.
At the June 8 meeting, council voted to slash Haddix’s salary from $750 a month to $74 a month to reimburse the city for the excess of $12,000 spent on legal fees battling his libel suit with former mayor Harold Logsdon; then Haddix followed through on his threat to sue the city for the back salary.
In November, the council voted to refund $2,025 to Haddix the back pay he had been deprived of since the summer. Additionally, the vote restored Haddix’s pay for the rest of the year, but did not approve any city reimbursement for Haddix’s legal fees.
At the time councilmember Kim Learnard said that “restoring the mayor’s pay is the fiscally responsible thing to do - the mayor has indicated he would proceed with a lawsuit against the city, counsel has advised the defense could easily run into the six figures and that’s at taxpayer expense. So although I’m confident the city would prevail, my job is to protect the public pocketbook and end these distractions. I have a city to run.”
Councilman Eric Imker concurred with saving the taxpayer money.
“This was strictly a fiscal decision,” said Dienhart that November night.
On Thursday, the costs involving all this litigation were finally in the council packet and Haddix said it was his turn to make a statement.
He pointed out that on the litigation services page of the monthly reports there was a charge of $2,445 for fees resulting from his suit against city hall.
“I questioned staff on this being the being the actual total of new changes on this issue, as it had to be higher. The records given to me show a much higher total. From August through November Laurel Henderson [interim attorney for the city since city attorney Ted Meeker could have been called in as a witness in the suit] billed the city for $5,517.12, all generated by the Councilmembers from April, 2011, through November, 2012, the legal fees totaled $10,467.12. Add in the GIRMA restitution giving a grand total of $20,433.52
“So, who is responsible for those expenses?”
Haddix went on to say that when the council found out about the Logsdon suit they “declared me guilty of slander and libel and told the city attorney I was not to be indemnified. They did so solely upon the word of Harold Logsdon, never asking anyone else who was party to matter about the truth of the accusation. A political decision, not a legal one.”
He noted that their stance required him to hire his own lawyer, which was “a justifiable expense under my personal GIRMA ( (Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency) coverage. GIRMA also stated there was mishandling of the matter initially. They stated I should have had their representation from day one. That, contrary to the lawsuit, I did act as Mayor fully within the duties of my office.”
Even with the ruling, he said, council continued to add accusations of ‘stealing from the taxpayers.
“They did so on the dais, in the newspapers and even on TV. They appealed to GIRMA to reverse their decision and take back the money, which GIRMA refused to do.
“When I threatened legal action, if they reduced my salary, councilman Imker said I didn't have the money to sue them. The others backed him. They proceeded to reduce my salary, thinking I had no recourse against them.”
He did hire an attorney, however, and threatened a lawsuit. A second suit was threatened for slander and libel.
“They settled and gave me back my salary and were forced to retract their accusations in the settlement agreement.
“Bottom line here is if the councilmembers had backed the full and proper handling of this matter at the beginning, the Logsdon lawsuit would have gone away quickly and cheaply, because three foundational claims in the lawsuit would have been refuted on day one.”
Haddix pointed out that council claimed he has to ask their permission ti file with GIRMA.
“ That was a false claim and admitted to in the agenda item on the ordinance requiring notification of Council of any lawsuit. No permission was ever needed.
“The councilmembers claimed they had to authorize payment of a bill from GIRMA. Again, a false claim admitted to during the Agenda Item.
“The councilmembers claimed they had to authorize reimbursement to me by GIRMA. Yet another false claim admitted to during the agenda Item.
“The Councilmembers claimed they had the authority to reduce my salary via the budget.”
Haddix said that was proven false and their claims of committing libel and slander were also untrue.
“ In fact, they had libeled and slandered me over a two-year period and had to retract their accusations in the settlement agreement.
“The councilmembers claimed city indemnification could not be given for accusations of liable and slander. Yet, they gave themselves indemnification when accused of committing liable and slander.
“The councilmembers claimed it required a council vote to give indemnification. Yet, they gave themselves indemnification without a vote.
“The Councilmembers claimed it required a council vote to hire a lawyer. Yet they hired a lawyer without a vote.”
Haddix said he was innocent of all charges but council broke laws, made false legal claims and “committed the very acts, benefitting themselves, they said it was illegal for me to do. The cost for this whole circus is the responsibility of the Councilmembers and no one else. If they had followed the law and done the right thing, this would have been over quickly in 2011. After two years of accusations, it is my turn to set the record straight.”
Haddix had no sooner finished than Dienhart told him the irony was that this was a campaign speech when he had just finished making a statement about no campaigning in city hall.
At the beginning of the meeting, Haddix had noted that with a new election year on the horizon he wanted it to be known that all campaigning stopped at the doors of city hall by ordinance.
Haddix slammed the gavel down, furiously turning on Dienhart and telling him that he was not campaigning. Abruptly, Dienhart made a motion to “replace the chair.” Immediately, Imker seconded it.
Haddix told him he couldn’t do it. Meeker noted “it’s a new one on me and you’re going to have to give me a minute to look it up.”
In the meantime, Haddix said any such motion was invalid anyway, since Dienhart had to have the floor to make a motion and he hadn’t given it to him.
Again, Dienhart attempted to say something and again Haddix stopped him.
“When I finish speaking you can speak. I have warned everyone about decorum and if you say one more word you will be out the door.”
Haddix said he had made his statement and “I remind everybody there is another little ordinance, one I’ve never utilized, they says I have the right to the last say on any issue.”
Dienhart again accused him of campaigning and, more than that, of bringing up a subject that was already closed and it was an ongoing embarrassment to the city,
“I disagree with most of what you said and I stand by what I said before, I believe we would have won in court but it would have been expensive.”
“”My last comment on this,” said Inker, “is that I reviewed the monthly reports, noticed the legal expenses and knew I could bring this up and make another scene, but I wanted to put this behind us. I don’t want to pull the city in that situation. It’s unfortunate that this wound up as an argument.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Haddix. “I was waiting for these numbers to come out to put this behind us. I got hammered for two years. Statements were made in the papers and blogs. I was entitled to the last word on this.”
Learnard, on the other hand, was having a hard time making a statement, having started chuckling until tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry. I’m just so ready for this to be over and for us to move on.”