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Close session tape holds a surprises
From the editor
Jeff Whitten NEW
Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Coastal Courier. - photo by File photo

Say what you want about the current Hinesville City Council, but it makes for interesting copy.

Whether that also makes for good government likely depends on your perspective.

But after a listen to the tape of Hinesville Council’s infamous June 1 executive session — a tape the Courier has been trying to get for months, and one we’re going to post on our website — for me the second-biggest surprise is that Councilwoman Diana Reid wanted former City Manager Billy Edwards fired rather than suspended.

And why?

Because she apparently believes he was out to get her removed from council.

"I felt like moving forward, but it’s going to be difficult to work with someone knowing they’re against me and not for me," Reid said at one point during the roughly hour-long closed meeting, which gives me new respect for folks who do transcripts of meetings.

At another, "It’s like he’s got a personal vendetta against me," Reid said of Edwards.

Ultimately, the outspoken councilwoman was talked into the two-week suspension without pay that eventually led to Edwards’ later departure, one that seemed more or less to be on his own terms, though it prevents him from suing Hinesville’s collective pants off.

Yet, all of this isn’t exactly easy to follow by listening to the tape, which goes in a number of directions while city attorneys Linnie Darden and Richard Braun try to keep the conversation in line with closed meeting requirements.

Thus, the biggest surprise for me from the tape is a comment from Darden, who early on in the closed session noted the council "might get away with what happened last time," apparently referring to the May 18 closed meeting in which things were talked about that perhaps shouldn’t be discussed in executive session.

I’m not throwing Darden under a bus, by the way. He comes across on the tape as a champion of open government, repeatedly asking that council members stay on topic and follow the law or take it outside.

They didn’t, and as result a tape of what is normally legally excluded from the public is now public, and offers you a chance to see your council members in closed session.

There is the real possibility Hinesville council members violated Georgia’s open meetings law in May, and we’re working to get the recording of that meeting. In the meantime, to reiterate if you’re keeping score, Edwards’ suspension was meant to send a message to Edwards that "you don’t run things and whatever you’re trying to do a council member is unacceptable" and to an employee who took exception to Reid’s criticism of the way she enforces city codes.

That worker, after all, sent the letters complaining of Reid’s actions that wound up in Edwards’ hands and that, "jumped the chain of command," as councilwoman Vicky Nelson put it.

Of course, any chain of command is supposed to work both ways, and you usually don’t find council members getting into the day to day running of a government.

At least, you didn’t used to.

This is a new world we’re in, and the old rules don’t always apply. In some cases maybe they shouldn’t, I don’t know. I’m just an old newspaper reporter.

But back to the tape. The sole council member to vote against the suspension, Jason Floyd, broke in at one point to argue that even a suspension was over the top.

"Before we take action against any employee, shouldn’t we do it, not based on feelings, but do it based on specific facts? Before we suspend someone for two weeks we should have a session to try to come up with what those facts are," Floyd said, which prompted a response from Nelson, who voted to suspend Edwards.

"I agree with you," Nelson said, "but unfortunately our city hasn’t been working like that."

So there you have it.

I’m not the sharpest tack in the room, but Nelson’s statement begs a question that should be asked by every Hinesville resident who cares about city government until an answer is given.


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