During a Special Called Meting held July 22, at Riceboro City Hall, Malinda McIver was reinstated as the City’s clerk after being abruptly terminated by Mayor, Joseph Harris, on or around July 9.
The mayor was not at the meeting but attended the Executive Session via cell phone according to McIver’s attorney Elizabeth Beasley of Balbo and Gregg Law Firm.
After the Executive Session, the meeting was opened to public forum where they announced the issue had been resolved. Councilmembers and those present embraced McIver who has been the City Clerk for 40 years, serving under four different administrations.
“I’m just glad to be back,” she said.
Beasley said there was never a clear picture of why the mayor terminated McIver in the first place. She said she was glad to hear the current Councilmembers would be supporting McIver going forward, but noted her client isn’t out of the woods as long as Harris is the mayor.
“Something has to change because under the mayor’s leadership right now that puts her in danger of having her reputation tarnished,” Beasley said. “Hopefully by being reinstated she can have her job and show that she is very capable and qualified to do this job.”
Beasley said the Mayor Harris had accused McIver of misconduct.
“But there were no clear examples given,” Beasley said. “There were accusations of insubordination but I didn’t hear examples of insubordination. I still don’t really know the detailed reasons why (she was fired). I don’t think they were justified reasons; I think they were opinions of the mayor, frankly.”
Beasley said Mayor Harris didn’t have the unilateral authority to fire McIver without cause or notice, based on her interpretation of the City charter.
“Especially without any notice, without any cause, until after the fact,” she said.
“Some of the reasons that he gave implicate a violation of the Georgia Whistleblowers Act,” Beasley said. According to a letter from Beasley to Riceboro City attorney John Pirkle, the firing may have been a direct retaliation against McIver for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about her hostile working environment.
McIver said had she not been reinstated she could have lost her pension and would have lost her insurance. She recalled being called to the council room by the mayor on a Friday afternoon around 4:25 p.m. She said the mayor quickly fired her and immediately changed the locks on the doors.
Beasley said Riceboro has a great City Council but said the mayor is a liability.
“I think there are going to be problems until he is out of office,” Beasley said. “That’s just my view of this entire situation. It just seems that he is a liability to this City and it could end up costing them dearly.”
There’s been trouble brewing in Riceboro recently which prompted the former Mayor, John McIver and former Councilmembers to hold a town hall meeting July 15, at the Riceboro Youth Center. The people addressed the alleged abuse of power by the mayor to include McIver’s abrupt firing, using the city vehicle for personal use, and trying to run the city without support of the council.
Former Councilman Modibo Kadalie, who grew up in the city, said the meeting was to air out grievances and also clarify the roles of the mayor and Council.
“The roles are not clarified and the mayor’s authority is not strictly understood by all parties concerned,” he said. “The City Council doesn’t understand its power in the decisions being made.”
During the town hall meeting Kadalie said the charter says the Council runs the City and that the mayor could do nothing else but to respond to the will of the City Council. He said the mayor may only vote to break a tie, but the Council must control the City.
Current Councilman John Young said the Mayor and Council aren’t currently working together. Young said the Council members must stick together.
“We stick together as Council and everything Joe wants passed, we turn it down,” Young said drawing boos and cheers from the crowd. “He can’t do nothing unless we agree on it…he is a tie-breaker yet he is telling us what to do. We got to stand together and stop this.”
Councilwoman Pearlie Axson said if they voted everything down nothing will get done. “We may have to change some of the rules and Joe will have to follow since we are the leaders,” she said.
Mayor Harris and Councilman David Miller were unable to attend the town hall meeting due to a scheduling conflict. Axson reported the two men were on vacation.
The Courier sent an email to Mayor Harris last week but has received no response. We placed a call to the City attorney Tuesday morning. A reply was not received by press time but will be posted online once it is received.
Lewis Levine contributed to this report.