After much discussion and a called executive session Tuesday, the Ludowici City Council voted to keep city clerk Tara Manning on suspension but to rescind its previous decision not to pay her during the suspension. During a Dec. 5 called meeting, the council voted to suspend Manning without pay for her role in signing checks — along with Ludowici Mayor Myrtice Warren — to pay Vanessa Cunningham for contracted work that since has been questioned by some council members.
According to the council, Cunningham has been paid approximately $60,000 for serving as the Long County Board of Elections chairwoman and for her work as a private contractor to review and make recommendations on the city’s personnel policy handbook and to remap the city’s five districts. Councilmen Jim Fuller and Frank McClelland Jr. said they did not vote to approve Cunningham’s review of the personnel policy or the remapping; they said they only voted to allow Cunningham to submit an estimate for the work.
At last month’s meeting, Cunningham said her work had been approved and that she also had a contract signed by Manning and Warren authorizing her to do the work. According to the October meeting minutes, which Manning recorded, the work was approved; however, Fuller and McClelland have questioned the minutes.
At the Dec. 5 special meeting, the council approved suspending Manning without pay. Council members Gwen Davis, Fuller and McClelland voted for the suspension. Councilman Johnny Manning, who did not support the suspension, did not sit at the meeting as a member of the council because he claimed the meeting was illegal since it had not been publicly advertised. Newly elected city council member Mary Hamilton, who took office at that meeting, abstained from the vote.
Tara Manning went before the council Tuesday and asked the mayor whether she, as the clerk, or Warren, as the mayor, had done anything wrong in the way they handled the matter with Cunningham. Warren said she did not know of any wrongdoing and added that when she told Manning of the suspension, she was only doing what the council told her to do. The mayor said it is her job to do what the council approves.
Fuller and McClelland said that one of Manning’s responsibilities as city clerk is to review accounts that are paid out on behalf of the city and she should have questioned the amounts paid to Cunningham. McClelland also said the mayor has to answer to voters regarding her actions, but the council is responsible for taking action against Manning since the clerk is a city employee.
Councilman Manning called the city clerk’s suspension inappropriate and made a motion to reinstate her, which was seconded by Hamilton but failed 2-3 when Fuller, McClelland and Davis voted against it. The council then went into executive session to discuss the matter as a personnel issue.
After the executive session, Davis motioned to continue Manning’s suspension with pay until the investigation regarding Cunningham is concluded and to furnish Manning with back pay from Dec. 5. The measure passed 4-0 with all voting in favor, except for Manning, who abstained.
Editor’s note: A second story about other items discussed at the council meeting will be published in an upcoming edition of the Courier.