Judge cites misdeeds, but denies mayor’s ouster from office

Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue, left, walks out of a Wilkinson County courtroom after the conclusion of a trial to determine if Whipple-Lue will be removed from office.
Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue, left, walks out of a Wilkinson County courtroom after the conclusion of a trial to determine if Whipple-Lue will be removed from office. jvorhees@macon.com

Despite finding that Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue spent city funds without authority, violated the state’s sunshine law, mistreated employees and other misconduct, a judge denied a petition seeking her removal from office.

A week after hearing evidence in a trial, Judge Robert S. Reeves issued an order Tuesday saying he “couldn’t conclude” that Whipple-Lue’s actions were “done with an evil intent or motive, or that she was grossly negligent to an extent equivalent to fraud.”

“She was overcome with her own importance and was, as her attorney argued, arrogant. She mistreated city employees simply because she felt she was all powerful,” wrote Reeves, a judge from the neighboring Middle Judicial Circuit who was assigned to the case after other judges disqualified themselves.

“In short, she has not been a good mayor, but not being an effective leader is not sufficient under the standard established by our Supreme Court” as grounds for removal, Reeves wrote.

Opening statements were held June 20, 2016, in the trial that pits Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue against a group that seeks to have her removed from office on grounds of incompetence, malfeasance and misfeasance. Whipple-Lue's lawyer argued th

Gordon Councilmen Terry Eady and Freddie Densley, along with members of the Concerned Citizens of Gordon group, filed a lawsuit seeking Whipple-Lue’s removal from office in 2014, just months after she took office as the city’s first black mayor.

A two-day trial was held last week without a jury, including testimony from Eady, Densley, the city’s clerk, deputy clerk and police chief, Whipple-Lue, two other city council members and other witnesses.

Macon attorney Devlin Cooper argued on the plaintiffs’ behalf that Whipple-Lue should be removed from office on grounds of misfeasance, malfeasance and incompetence as provided by the city’s charter.

Whipple-Lue’s Fayetteville attorney, Wayne Kendall, alleged that the case was racially motivated and argued that the mayor should remain in office.

Reached Tuesday, Cooper said the judge’s order showed that his clients proved what they set out to prove: that Whipple-Lue committed misconduct while in office.

He said his clients are considering possible options for appealing the decision.

Eady said, “We are disappointed, but we’ll accept it and move forward.”

A phone call to Kendall wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

In his order, Reeves said removing an elected official is an action that must be “reserved for the most egregious and compelling cases” and that the standard for removal is high.

There’s evidence that conditions in Gordon have improved since he temporarily suspended her from office in 2014 and most of the misconduct was from early in her term, he went on to say.

Now with less than two years left in her term, Reeves wrote that he hopes Whipple-Lue “has learned from her mistakes and will proceed more prudently and graciously in the future.”

If not, Gordon residents will have the option to remove her from office in the 2017 election, the judge wrote.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.