ExecutiveSession0601RecordingRecording of the Executive Session
District 1 councilwoman Diana Reid wanted former City Manager Billy Edwards fired, according to a recording of the June 1 executive session meeting of the Hinesville City Council.
The recording, obtained by the Courier, paints a picture of a sometimes chaotic executive session where city attorney Linnie Darden pleaded with council members several times to move the discussion before the public.
Council members ignored his repeated requests, possibly violating the Georgia Open Meetings Act. During the session, Darden said the council may have also violated that law in May.
The audio recording suggests a rift between Edwards and Reid had been brewing due to a matter involving code enforcement officer Becky Speir, who filed a grievance against Reid on May 9, after Reid spoke against Speir during a May 4 council meeting.
Speir wrote that she was filing the grievance against Reid for slander and libel, and council members discussed the issue during a May 18 meeting.
But at the June 1 executive session, Reid addressed the council and Mayor Allen Brown, claiming it wasn’t handled properly.
“I received a second letter,” she said adding she thought the issue had been resolved. “It completely took me aback because I thought we were trying to move forward.”
The follow up letter from Speir requested the grievance be brought before the ethics committee.
Speir also requested Darden be removed from handling the matter. She said she thought it was a conflict of interest since Darden is appointed by the mayor and council. Speir requested that an attorney from the Georgia Municipal Association handle the matter.
In the recording of the June 1 meeting, Darden interrupts Reid and councilman Keith Jenkins, saying, “what we are doing now can be discussed outside. We can do all this outside in open session.”
Jenkins said he thought the issue was fit for executive session. Darden disagreed.
“In my opinion the complaint by Becky against a city councilwoman is not an issue that needs to be discussed in executive session,” Darden repeated. “It is not really a personnel matter because it is an employee complaining against a city council member. Typical personnel issues have to deal with hiring and firing and just general discussions about discipline. Not a complaint by an employee against a city official. In my finding, this can be talked about outside.”
Council members continued discussing the topic and again Darden interrupted by saying, “Can we take this outside? Why do we have to have this discussion in executive session?”
“Because I personally feel like it didn’t have to escalate if the mayor or the city manager, if they had actually taken care of it,” Reid responded.
“But let’s talk about it outside,” Darden insisted.
Reid said she felt she was personally attacked by Edwards over the issue.
“I think we need to stop,” Brown said.
“There is an exemption or exception to the rules and that is to discuss personnel matters,” Darden said. “But what we are doing is talking about some rules and regulations and procedures, all of which the public has the right to hear. That is why I am saying we shouldn’t do that here. We can take everything that you said now out there (into open session).”
He continued, “all of this stuff we are talking about, from subject matter to subject matter, most of it could have been discussed out there. And if it can be discussed out there…the rule is, it ought to be.
A voice can be heard in the background saying, “It must be.”
Darden said he was not present at the May 18 executive session. But he noted he had listened to the recorded minutes of that meeting to be familiar with the discussion. He said after reviewing the audio he believed most of what was discussed at the May meeting should have been done in public.
“And I just want to keep everybody out of trouble because, I think we might get away with what happened last time, but we need to really be careful of what we are saying back here because the Attorney General disciplined the mayor and the city council of Savannah for discussing topics that they ought not discuss,” Darden said.
However, Jenkins continued the conversation, saying he wanted to get a better understanding of the grievance issue.
Darden interrupted again saying, “I am begging you guys to please talk about it out there.”
Reid continued, saying she thought the entire issue was nothing more than a “façade.”
“So I am trying to make a motion to have that person dismissed,” she said.
Brown and council members apparently thought Reid was talking about having Speir dismissed, but she quickly corrected them.
“I am not talking about her,” Reid said. “I am talking about Billy. It is like he has a personal vendetta against me because of what I said on that tape. And I’m tired of hearing that he is going to get me…. I would move that he be dismissed. Instead of him taking care of the city’s business at hand, he is busy dwelling upon me. Like (it’s) a personal vendetta to get me.”
Reid said she could no longer work with Edwards, saying he didn’t handle the issue regarding Speir properly, allowing it to escalate.
She also said she heard Edwards was going to seek the assistance of the governor to have her removed from office. She added she heard Brown was siding with Edwards.
“You agreed with him to have me removed,” she told Brown.
“You are totally wrong Ms. Reid. You are totally wrong about both parties, both parties,” Brown replied.
The discussion between Reid and council member Jason Floyd became heated, when he mentioned that Reid barely let Edwards speak at the last meeting. Floyd said it seemed to him Reid had called Edwards a racist during the May executive session.
“I didn’t call him a racist,” Reid fired back. “I told him he didn’t have any respect. Maybe because I am a female, maybe because I am African American, I don’t know…I also pointed out the fact the he didn’t respect his assistant city manager…Anybody who knows me knows I have never called anybody a racist. That is not my character. And the people that I thought could speak for my character, they didn’t. And I expressed that.”
As the discussion became out of order, a gavel is heard as Brown adjourned the meeting and left the room. Darden and Attorney Richard Braun, who was also present, are heard saying, “Let the record reflect that the mayor adjourned the meeting.”
Brown is the chief executive officer of the city government and is the presiding officer of the meetings, according to the city’s charter.
According to Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, when an executive session strays off topic, the chairman or presiding officer should rule the discussion out of order. If the discussion continues on the same path, “the chair or presiding officer is obliged to immediately adjourn the executive session,” according to OCGA 50-14-3.
As Darden and Braun reviewed the charter, saying they had entered unchartered territory, Jenkins said the meeting was not adjourned because it required the majority vote of the council.
Braun found an ordinance which said if a council member is dissatisfied with the decision of a presiding officer, they may appeal to the city council.
The conversation then continued, with Councilman Kenneth Shaw recommending that Edwards be given time off and not terminated.
The group voted to go back into executive session. Shaw who is mayor pro tem, served as chairman.
“I think that if he got two weeks it would send a message that you don’t run things,” Reid said. “I think it would send a clear message that whatever you think you are trying to do to a council member is unacceptable.”
Edwards was suspended for two weeks without pay after the executive session by a 3-1 council vote. Council members Reid, Nelson and Jenkins voted for suspension. Floyd voted no and Shaw did not vote.
Edwards resigned Aug. 17 and later agreed not to sue the city 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 also signed a covenant not to sue the city.