Documents imply the suspension and subsequent departure of former Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards arose because he did not discipline an employee at the request of a council member.
Edwards was suspended for two weeks without pay on a 3-1 council vote, reportedly after Mayor Allen Brown walked out of an executive session June 1. Council members Diana Reid, Vicky Nelson and Keith Jenkins voted for suspension. Councilman Jason Floyd voted no and Kenneth Shaw, presiding following Brown’s exit, did not vote.
Edwards hired attorney Hugh McNatt, who demanded reinstatement and a public apology because Edwards, “was not afforded the barest of due process,” according to June 5 letters obtained by the Courier in open records requests.
On Aug. 17, the city accepted Edwards’ resignation in a negotiated agreement. The agreement acknowledges the longtime city manager “was not terminated for cause,” and his resignation will be noted in personnel records as voluntary.
Edwards agreed not to sue.
The councilmember mainly involved, Reid, said at this point she sees no need to rehash past events, because it doesn’t not serve residents.
“If I thought it would help the community…” she said. “This isn’t just about District 1, it’s about the entire community. It’s about moving forward in a positive direction. Going back doesn’t help anyone. We need to continue to move forward to better serve this community.”
But the question of why Edwards was suspended in the first place still lingers.
Documents obtained through open records requests include a July 19 letter from McNatt to City Attorney Linnie Darden III.
It says Reid sent an email to Edwards demanding that he discipline a city employee for making a complaint against her.
The May 9 complaint by code enforcement officer Becky Speir was filed after Reid spoke against Speir during a May 4 council meeting. The conflicts arose when Reid looked into a complaint resident Deloris Latson at the April 20 meeting. Latson had complained about code violations issued for debris in her Freedom Court neighborhood. Reid decided to visit the area with Speir on a subsequent visit.
At a May 4 council meeting Reid said, “I think a lot of the reason that Becky didn’t get cooperation is the way Becky had spoken to them… A few of them came over there and attested to the fact that she came over there threatening them and not talking to them. So what I did was I decided to go talk to them myself. So I told them that I would come back and we would clean it up.”
Reid said that with help from Keep Liberty Beautiful and Fort Stewart’s Youth Challenge they cleaned up the areas.
“To me that is easier than going through the community and writing a lot of senseless violations,” Reid said May 4.
In her grievance, Speir said Reid acted negligently by not attempting to verify allegations made during an enforcement case.
“She has tainted my reputation by making false statements and causing me to appear unfit for my job…although there is no requirement for citizens to appreciate the enforcement of the city’s ordinances or property maintenance codes, it does not mean that I have been ‘threatening’ to any citizens by informing them of the violations and the process we take to seek compliance.”
“I should not have to worry about a council person defaming me for doing my job,” Speir wrote.
After Speir’s complaint, Reid began complaining about Edwards being insubordinate, not responding to emails and requests in a timely manner or at all.
In McNatt’s July 19 letter, the lawyer wrote that, “Edwards will not discipline the employee or respond to council member Reid.” The letter said the email was evidence of Reid’s attempt to intimidate Edwards for his refusal to punish the employee for engaging in protected speech and conduct.
“Reid’s directive is outrageous and illegal,” McNatt wrote to Darden. “You must agree as you advised Mr. Edwards to deny Reid’s request.”
Edwards recently said he only suspected the incident between Reid and Speir had sparked the fallout between him and some on the council.
“I have an idea … I’ve never been officially told...but yes I do,” he said.
This seems confirmed in a July 6 letter to Darden from Westbury and Bennett Attorneys at Law, representing the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, the city’s liability insurance carrier.
“Based upon GIRMA’s investigation, it appears that the city manager was suspended…for delivering to a council member a complaint lodged by an employee. The actions of the mayor and council were taken at meetings that may not have complied with the Open Meetings Act.”
GIRMA lawyers were provided the executive session minutes and video of the June 1 meeting. The Courier continues to seek those same minutes and video. So far it has been denied access.