Judge temporarily suspends Gordon mayor from office

Telegraph staffJune 2, 2014 

GORDON -- A judge suspended Gordon’s mayor from office Monday afternoon, according to a temporary restraining order filed in Wilkinson County Superior Court.

Mayor Mary Whipple-Lue refused to comment Monday night as she entered City Hall to turn in several items to the Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office, including the city’s credit card, her cellphone and keys to various city buildings.

On Friday, Whipple-Lue had ordered the locks changed at Gordon’s Better Hometown Building, the Discovery Center and the Old Gordon Depot. She also surrendered the keys to the city’s file cabinets, which are supposed to be in the possession of the city clerk, officials said.

She is suspended from office “until further order of the court,” according to the order. City Councilman Terry Eady, the mayor pro tem, will serve as interim mayor until the court makes a final ruling.

If the court were to rule against Whipple-Lue and remove her from office, Eady would continue to serve as interim mayor until a special election could be held.

The suspension and restraining order are the latest developments in a lawsuit brought by two city councilmen and members of the Concerned Citizens of Gordon group.

The lawsuit alleges malfeasance and violation of Georgia’s Open Meetings Act and seeks to remove Whipple-Lue from office.

Devlin Cooper, a Macon lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the group had hoped to avoid seeking an injunction to temporarily remove Whipple-Lue from office, hoping instead that the lawsuit would move through the legal system quickly.

“But things have just gotten out of hand,” he said.

Eady said the court will hear the matter once more on June 24 at 9 a.m., at which time Whipple-Lue can present her case. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard Aug. 1.

Gordon’s charter requires four city council members’ votes to pass a motion unless there’s a tie, in which case the mayor can vote.

At the council’s May 21 meeting, a motion to end longtime City Attorney Joe Boone’s contract ended in a 3-2 vote. Although the motion failed, Whipple-Lue voted so the measure would pass, Cooper said.

When a motion to give her authority to hire another city attorney ended in the same split, she voted again, he said.

Whipple-Lue’s attorney, Wayne Kendall, argued at a May hearing that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the open meetings law applies to an agency, not a single officeholder. Kendall also said the mayor should be protected for actions taken within the scope of her official duties.

The city charter allows a mayor to be removed from office on grounds of “incompetence, misfeasance or malfeasance” in office. The removal can be accomplished by an order from a Superior Court judge.

Middle Circuit Superior Court Judge Robert S. Reeves is presiding in the case.

A City Council meeting Monday night was nearly postponed despite a standing-room only crowd at the city annex when only three members of the council were present. But Councilwoman Doreatha Whipple showed up about 15 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin, and business was conducted.

One of the agenda items involved whether City Clerk Towanna Brown could hire an outside attorney paid for by the city for a deposition for which she is scheduled to testify. Brown wants a different attorney than interim City Attorney Ronny Jones, who was appointed by Whipple-Lue after the vote against Boone. Brown said having Jones represent her is a conflict of interest.

Brown also is involved in a whistleblower lawsuit against Whipple-Lue.

Eady consulted both Jones and Boone during the meeting. Jones said typically people giving a deposition don’t have counsel, but that he could represent her without conflict. Boone disagreed, saying he would advise anyone in Brown’s position to get independent counsel because anything she said under oath during the deposition could be used later in her lawsuit.

In the end, the measure failed to pass when Whipple voted against it. Whipple said Whipple-Lue made a similar request of the council to pay for her attorney, which was denied.

That matter was supposed to be discussed once more Monday night, but Eady tabled it.

Also during the meeting, Eady informed the council that the city has a new insurance policy after the old one had been canceled by the Georgia Municipal Association because of the issues in Gordon. Eady said a new insurance policy with the Mixon Insurance Agency was scheduled to take effect Tuesday. The policy covers everything except police liability and liability with public officials, Eady said. Those rates are still being negotiated.

However, Gordon Police Chief Mike Hall said after Monday’s meeting that the lack of liability insurance wouldn’t prevent him or his officers from doing their jobs.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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