Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards says he hasn’t been told why he was suspended and "was not afforded the barest of due process," according to letters to the city from his attorney.
The documents, along with replies from the city, were obtained by the Courier in an open records request. Hinesville’s City Council voted 3-1 to suspend Edwards for two weeks without pay following an executive session at its June 1 meeting.
Edwards is represented by Vidalia attorney Hugh McNatt, who is demanding the city reinstate Edwards and issue a public apology.
"If these actions are not taken, Mr. Edwards intends to pursue all rights and remedies under the law, including damages, costs and attorney’s fees" a letter to the city from McNatt dated Monday said.
That letter, which also demanded the city produce documents and recordings of executive sessions in which Edwards was discussed, said the longtime city manager "has never been disciplined in any manner prior to this past week."
It called the council’s action "without legal authority and unlawful," and said Edwards would return to work Tuesday.
That didn’t happen. Instead, a letter from McNatt to Hinesville City Attorney Linnie Darden III dated Wednesday said Edwards was "advised not to report to work even though the City’s purported suspension of him was and remains unlawful and illegal."
The letter said Edwards did not go to work to avoid "unnecessary confrontation, not because he agrees with the City’s purported suspension of him."
It also asks for a public hearing, which "won’t be granted at this time," according to a Friday letter to McNatt from Darden.
"However, after the full fourteen (14) day suspension is served, the Mayor and Council will meet with Mr. Edwards to discuss the loss of his fourteen (14) days of pay," it said.
Darden’s letter said Edwards is an "at-will" employee, according to the city’s code. It allows removal by a majority vote, but also requires the city manager be paid until the removal is final. And, it appears to allow a public hearing to challenge dismissal.
In McNatt’s Wednesday letter, which apparently references phone conversations he had with Darden, McNatt notes that "I understand the City Council is willing to meet with Mr. Edwards to try to resolve this issue, but only after he serves the full length of his suspension. As the suspension is unlawful, forcing Mr. Edwards to serve the duration of it before even meeting with him is no offer at all."
That letter calls the suspension "an affront to basic management principles" and says Edwards had hoped to meet and "resolve this dispute quickly, but it appears the City Council is not willing to meaningfully consult with Mr. Edwards. Accordingly, Mr. Edwards rejects the City’s proposed meeting."
Council member Jason Floyd cast the sole vote against suspending Edwards. Councilmembers Diana Reid, Vicky Nelson and Keith Jenkins voted in favor. Mayor Pro Tem Kenneth Shaw was presiding after Mayor Allen Brown left the executive session and did not participate in the open session.
The Courier has also asked for recordings of that executive session, but the city claims they are exempt from disclosure. Other documents asked for by both the Courier and Edwards’ attorneys will be made available by Friday, according to Hinesville City Clerk Sarah Lumpkin.
If Edwards’ 14-day suspension began June 2 and includes weekends, it will end Friday.