Porterdale ousts staff members
City clerk, Better Hometown Manager not reappointed

PORTERDALE - Another salvo was fired Wednesday night at the Porterdale City Council meeting in the continuing saga over the council's failure to reappoint City Clerk Shari Stevenson.

Following the conclusion of an executive session, Councilman Robert Foxworth said the council voted not to reappoint Stevenson. Curt Leasure, who is the city's code enforcement officer and building inspector, has been appointed interim city clerk by the council, until the position can be filled.

At last month's council meeting, Foxworth said he wanted the council to review an audit of the city's finances, as well as the 2008 budget, prior to reappointing Stevenson.

"I made a motion to defer the reappointment of the city clerk until after a review of the financial statements had been done by the council and our new CPA," Foxworth said Thursday. "Councilwoman Kay Piper and Mayor (Bobby) Hamby questioned me and attacked me on my statement, and I said this is a personnel issue I would rather discuss in closed session. I said that twice, and I was forced into defending myself with a couple of comments about the clerk's position."

According to Foxworth, there were some discrepancies in previous audits, which showed that the city may have been missing as much as $40,000 at one point.

At the January meeting, Hamby told the council there was no money missing and attributed the discrepancies to an accounting "software glitch."

Foxworth also said that no past due water accounts in the city have been turned into the collection agency since 2005. According to the councilman, that responsibility "evidently" falls to the city clerk and at least partially to City Manager Tom Fox. Foxworth said the council is now going to receive detailed financial statements each month.

The council voted Wednesday to write off $147,080 owed to the city in unpaid water debt.

"I'm very upset about that," Foxworth said.

Also at the council meeting Wednesday, Stevenson's niece, Maura Haines, read a statement to the council prepared by her aunt.

The statement read as follows: "(Hamby, Piper, Fox and City Attorney Tim Chambers), I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity of working for you and with you. It was quite a learning experience.

"(Foxworth), thank you for the emotional distress, the physical distress, the anxiety attacks and the sleepless nights I have endured for the past month. Your retaliation and personal vendetta towards me has worked. You managed to humiliate me in front of co-workers, the residents who I have worked hard to serve and the news media by making false accusations against me.

"Not only has it been hard on me, but also my family. I truly worked hard for the city and tried to the best of my ability to make sure things were done correctly and within the law.

"(Foxworth), you on the other hand think you are above the law in doing what you please and just plain running amok. You are the most unethical person I have ever known. You are a major embarrassment to the city and I feel sorry for the residents who will have to endure another four years of you supposedly representing them."

Foxworth responded Thursday by saying he is accountable to the city's taxpayers and will do what is in their best interest.

"I am elected by the people of Porterdale. I must be doing something right if I won by 72 percent of the vote," he said. "When I question the taxpayers' money on a procedure or statements of the city, and I get ridiculed about them ... then I've got to do the job for the taxpayers of my community. And if it's stepping on some toes and people don't like how I ask these hard questions, then I'm sorry. I wish Ms. Stevenson the best."

In other Porterdale news, the council also decided Wednesday not to retain Better Hometown Manager Patti Battle.

According to Councilwoman Linda Finger, following an executive session, the council voted to pass the 2008 budget, and while the council members decided to keep the position of Better Hometown Manager, they did not keep Battle to fill that position.

Battle had been previously criticized by several members of the council for spending money on events in the city without prior approval or raising enough funds to cover their costs.

Two events held in Porterdale last year - Patriotic Day and The Yellow River Jam - cost the city $11,574. Only $9,085 in donations, sponsorships and vendor fees were raised for the events.

"The council has not decided just to do this in a five- or 10-minute discussion, this has been a long, drawn out discussion for several weeks," Foxworth said, speaking of both Stevenson and Battle.

Battle declined to comment on her release by the city.

The council voted down a motion made by Councilwoman Linda Finger to collect all of the city's credit cards and lock them in city hall until a thorough investigation could be completed.

"At the January meeting ... I requested copies of all the credit card statements. I feel it very important that this be looked into," Finger said Thursday. "We do have an ordinance in place that has been in place for a long time about credit card use and how they are supposed to be used and what for and all that. As I said when I made my motion last night, I don't feel that those procedures have been followed, and I'm not going to drop this until I've been satisfied that it's been dealt with. It's a major concern of mine."

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.