Ludowici Mayor James Fuller and city council members Mark Chesser, Mary Hamilton, Frank McClelland Jr., Gwen Davis and City Municipal Court Judge Larry Flowers officially were sworn in Tuesday during a ceremony at Ludowici City Hall. Long County Probate Judge Marie Middleton presided over the ceremony, which drew a large group of onlookers.
Afterward, the three newly installed officials — Fuller, Chesser and Hamilton — fielded questions about the city’s ethics investigation, the suspensions of city clerk Tara Manning and Police Chief Richard Robertson, the hiring of employees for the upcoming year and Vanessa Cunningham’s role in the recent municipal election.
Regarding the situations concerning Manning, Robertson and Cunningham and the ethics investigation, Fuller said there was little he could say because the matters involve personnel issues and an ongoing investigation.
“I can’t say a lot about those issues, but we are going to deal with all of them,” he said. “We have to wait until our attorney has gathered all of his information, and then based upon all of that, we will do what we need to do.”
Fuller said that even though the city currently is advertising for all positions in the city, the policy always has been to rehire all employees in January.
“The city has always rehired its employees at the beginning of the year. As for why we are advertising for positions this year, we had to, to make sure that we would be able to provide the services for the citizens,” Fuller said. “During the election, there were some employees that said that if I was elected, they were going to quit. I felt that we needed to take applications in case that happened. That way we would be able to fill a position quickly if we needed to.
“Just so all of the current employees know, their experience and time with the city will be taken into consideration when we do the hiring,” he said.
Hamilton, of District 1, echoed Fuller’s comments on the ethics investigation, Manning and Cunningham, but did comment on Robertson.
“The chief appears to have gotten involved in the politics, and in his position, he shouldn’t have done that,” she said. “But I don’t know everything, and I need to hear more about his side of the story before I can say what I think should be done with that situation.”
Regarding the matter of hiring, Hamilton said that she is open to replacing some of the current employees.
“It’s bad to say, but with all of the stuff that has been going on here, some of the employees may not be rehired, but the services will be continued for the city whether we rehire everyone or hire some new people,” Hamilton said.
Chesser, of District 2, commented on all of the matters except for Cunningham’s situation.
“Everyone needs their job. I would like to see all of the employees rehired for the upcoming year. As for the chief (Robertson), I want him back at work. He’s worked hard over the years, protecting our city and doing what is right. There may be a few issues we have to deal with him on, but they can be worked out,” Chesser said.
“(City clerk) Tara (Manning) has been here a long time. Yes, it is obvious that there are some problems with the books, but everyone else has been here and they’re responsible for the books, too. We’re going to have to wait on that investigation and then we’ll know what really happened,” he said.
District 4 Councilman Johnny Manning did not attend the ceremony.