Testifying for the second time in the trial to determine if she will be removed from office, Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue denied many of the allegations against her, including those that she harassed city employees.
“I’ve never intimidated or said I was going to fire any employees,” she said.
But later, she sat a few feet away as video from Gordon Police Chief Mike Hall’s body camera played her voice telling him she could make a “clean sweep” and told him he could make a change she wanted or do things his way and “your way is out the door.”
Hall, who has filed two U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the city citing racial discrimination, testified the recording dates back to Jan. 15, 2014, less than two weeks before Whipple-Lue took office. She is Gordon’s first black mayor.
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Testimony and arguments in the case — brought about by a lawsuit filed by Councilmen Terry Eady and Freddie Densley, along with members of the Concerned Citizens of Gordon group — ended Tuesday without the judge issuing a ruling. It’s unclear when a ruling will be issued.
Gordon’s charter provides that a Superior Court judge can overturn voters’ choice and remove the mayor from office on grounds of incompetence, misfeasance or malfeasance in office.
The plaintiffs in the case have alleged she committed all three.
In the trial, which began Monday in Wilkinson County Superior Court, Eady, Densley, the city clerk and deputy clerk and Hall have testified about Whipple-Lue allegedly harassing white employees, acting outside the scope of her office authorizing payments and funds transfers without city council approval, entering into business contracts without city council approval, and other allegations of misconduct since she took office.
The county’s economic development director testified Tuesday that he overheard an alleged meeting of a city council committee in February 2014 after talking with the mayor on the phone and continuing to listen to the line even after their conversation ended.
Cooper contends the gathering was a meeting held in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
In his closing argument, Cooper recapped testimony about four EEOC complaints filed within the first two months of Whipple-Lue’s term and another two filed last year.
The city’s insurance carrier wouldn’t renew its policy in early 2014, citing “apparent dysfunction among the elected officials ... which has created conditions that increase risk of loss to the city beyond acceptable levels.”
Now, they’re left without liability insurance because “they’re uninsurable,” Cooper said.
Wayne Kendall, the mayor’s lawyer, argued after the plaintiffs finished presenting their case Tuesday morning that the judge grant a motion to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing additional evidence because the plaintiffs failed to prove their case.
Judge Robert Reeves granted the motion in part, dismissing portions of the lawsuit, but ruled there’s enough evidence to move forward on other allegations included in the suit.
Reeves, a judge from the neighboring Middle Judicial Circuit, was assigned to the case after judges in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit —which includes Wilkinson County — disqualified themselves.
Mayor: ‘I’ve grown a lot’
In her testimony, Whipple-Lue said, “I feel like I’m the one who is being discriminated against.”
Kendall argued in his opening statement and closing argument that the lawsuit is “racially motivated” and in his closing argument he said the mayor has been faced with working with a “very hostile group of people.”
Councilwomen Barbara Towles and Doretha Whipple denied participating in an alleged violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act and seemed to back the mayor in defending against the allegations levied by the plaintiffs.
Whipple-Lue admitted in her testimony that she authorized a $10,000 check to be issued for a forensic audit despite the city council not passing a resolution to fund the project.
She initially denied interfering with a DUI stop, but later admitted she’d told a Gordon police officer to move a car involved in the stop, saying “I’m the mayor,” because the car was blocking her driveway. Whipple-Lue said video of the encounter has gone viral.
Questioned by the judge during her testimony, Whipple-Lue said she’s changed how she governs over the past 30 months she’s been mayor.
She said she doesn’t “spontaneously react” and instead seeks counsel from others before making a decision.
“I’ve grown a lot,” she said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.