Councilman: Closed door meeting illegal

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

PORTERDALE -- The City Council went into closed session over the objections of one council member last week for the purpose of reviewing resumes for the Municipal Court solicitor and judge.

Following a work session and called meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, June 28, some council members expressed a desire to go into closed session to review resumes received by the city for the two court positions. The City Council decided May 2 to advertise Requests for Qualifications for the positions as well as the private probation service provider. The city has received three resumes for the solicitor position and two for the judgeship.

Councilman Robert Foxworth objected to going into closed session, saying that he thought the council should form a committee to review the resumes as was done with previous hires. Foxworth also said it was illegal to call for a closed session at a called meeting when it was not on the agenda.

"I don't think anybody who sits on this council is qualified to review the resumes," said Foxworth.

"I'm qualified to review them," Councilwoman Arline Chapman replied.

"I don't think you are," Foxworth retorted.

Foxworth left City Hall when other council members decided to go ahead with the closed meeting.

"I think what y'all are doing is wrong, and I'm not going to be a part of it," he said.

Foxworth, who was the only council member who opposed advertising RFQs in May, said Wednesday that there is more to some council members' decision to advertise RFQs for judge and solicitor than meets the eye.

"Until the council comes clean, nobody is going to know the truth about these RFQs," he said. "The council is hiding behind the wall of executive session. If it's a personal issue with the RFQs, they need to get over it."

Following the closed session Tuesday night, the remaining council members voted to form a committee to review resumes and interview applicants for the two positions. The committee will be made up of City Attorney Tim Chambers, Mayor Bobby Hamby, Chapman, City Manager Bob Thomson and Police Chief Geoff Jacobs. The council also decided to change the application deadline to July 15.

Prior to the decision in May to advertise RFQs, some council members expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which court sessions were conducted and some members expressed their displeasure with the manner in which a DUI case involving a Conyers police officer had been handled by the court. The officer was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving.

Solicitor Qader Baig, who also serves as Rockdale County attorney, subsequently resigned. Municipal Judge David Strickland, a Covington attorney, remains as judge, a position he has held for 15 years.

The City Council sent letters to both Baig and Strickland following Baig's resignation maintaining that the timing of its decision to advertise RFQs for solicitor and judge was coincidental and not related to dissatisfaction with the handling of the DUI case.

According to the letters, the decision to advertise RFQs was prompted by a desire to "ensure that the court is staffed by qualified and respected professionals, and that all procedures are conducted with the utmost decorum and professionalism. This can best be accomplished by periodically opening these positions for review and renewal in a public and transparent process."

City Manager Thomson said Wednesday that letters will be sent to both Baig and Strickland seeking their applications for the solicitor and judge positions.

Thomson also said court cases scheduled for June have been rescheduled until the city has the staff in place to conduct court.