Lo­cal lead­ers clash at Por­terdale City Coun­cil

Steven­son, Bat­tle not reap­pointed

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Jenny Thompson

At a meet­ing last­ing un­til ap­prox­i­mately 1 a.m. Thurs­day, the Por­terdale City Coun­cil voted not to reap­point Shari Steven­son as city clerk and Patti Bat­tle as Bet­ter Home­town di­rec­tor.

For al­most three months, mem­bers of the Por­terdale City Coun­cil have clashed over whether to reap­point Steven­son and Bat­tle.

“Let tonight be the night when we just start all over again,” Coun­cil­woman Kay Piper asked her fel­low coun­cil mem­bers in a state­ment read near the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing.

Coun­cil­woman Piper ex­cused her­self be­cause of the time and Coun­cil­woman Ar­line Chap­man ab­stained from the vote be­cause as a new mem­ber she did not feel she had the nec­es­sary back­ground in­for­ma­tion to vote.

City clerk

Coun­cil­man Robert Fox­worth made a mo­tion to de­fer the reap­point­ment of the Steven­son as city clerk dur­ing the Jan­uary meet­ing af­ter he no­ticed a large amount of un­col­lected wa­ter bills had not been writ­ten off by the city since 1999. The to­tal sum of the un­col­lected bills dat­ing from 1999 to 2005 was $147,080.66, which was writ­ten off by the coun­cil at Wed­nes­day night’s meet­ing.

“I made the mo­tion to de­fer her reap­point­ment un­til af­ter our city ac­coun­tant, Denny Philips, made a fi­nan­cial re­view,” Fox­worth said. “I wanted to dis­cuss the mat­ter in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion be­cause it was a per­son­nel is­sue, but Coun­cil­woman Piper and Mayor [Bobby] Hamby kept ham­mer­ing me, and I’m not one to back into a cor­ner and keep my tail be­tween my legs — it’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

He added he felt re­spon­si­ble to the res­i­dents of Por­terdale to see their tax and util­ity money is used ap­pro­pri­ately, and he would con­tinue to ask tough ques­tions and scru­ti­nize the bud­get.

Kurt Lea­sure, Por­terdale code en­force­ment of­fi­cer, has filled in for Steven­son since the de­fer­ral of her ap­point­ment and was ap­proved as in­terim city clerk un­til a suit­able re­place­ment can be hired.

“Kurt is the best,” Fox­worth said. “He is great at what­ever he does.”

Steven­son’s niece, Maura Haines, read a state­ment on Steven­son’s be­half at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing. In the state­ment, Steven­son thanked Hamby, Piper, City Man­ager Tom Fox and City At­tor­ney Tim Cham­bers for their sup­port and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

“Mr. Fox­worth, thank you for the emo­tional dis­tress, the phys­i­cal dis­tress, the anx­i­ety at­tacks and the sleep­less nights I have en­dured for the past month,” Haines read. “Your re­tal­i­a­tion and per­sonal vendetta to­ward me has worked.”

Steven­son said Fox­worth hu­mil­i­ated her pub­licly and made false ac­cu­sa­tions about her to the news me­dia. She said she has worked to en­sure her du­ties were per­formed with ac­cu­racy and le­gal­ity.

“You are the most un­eth­i­cal per­son I have ever known,” Haines read from the state­ment. “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.”

While Fox­worth al­lowed Haines to read Steven­son’s state­ment un­in­ter­rupted, Coun­cil­man Mike Harper asked whether the state­ment was be­ing recorded and that if his name was slan­dered, Haines would hear from his lawyer.

“We have free­dom of speech and we’ve got a great con­sti­tu­tion,” Fox­worth said. “I wel­come any­body to come down and speak their mind, but they bet­ter watch what they say.”

In an ear­lier in­ter­view with Steven­son, she said Fox­worth’s be­hav­ior to­ward her changed af­ter a city em­ployee re­ported to her she had re­peat­edly been sex­u­ally ha­rassed ver­bally by and asked to type per­sonal let­ters for Fox­worth

An ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the News on April 27, 2005, re­ported the de­tails of the be­hav­ior which re­port­edly oc­curred from Sept. 2004 to March 2005. The board voted unan­i­mously to cen­sure Fox­worth and di­rected him to at­tend sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing, which he did com­plete by the end of 2005.

“For three years I have been re­spect­ful to­ward Ms. Steven­son and ev­ery­body else,” Fox­worth said. “I move on.”

Fox­worth de­nied the mat­ter was per­sonal and said he, and a ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil, sim­ply felt hir­ing an­other city clerk was in the best in­ter­est of Por­terdale.

Bet­ter home­town di­rec­tor

At the De­cem­ber meet­ing, Fox­worth made a mo­tion to dis­cuss the po­si­tion of Bet­ter Home­town Di­rec­tor Patti Bat­tle be­cause she had spent city money to plan three events with­out com­ing to the board for ap­proval.

“I was never given a bud­get or even a job de­scrip­tion, so I don’t think I have done any­thing wrong,” Bat­tle said.

Bat­tle be­gan work­ing as the Bet­ter Home­town di­rec­tor in late spring of 2007 when the coun­cil ap­proved the ini­ti­a­tion of the pro­gram, which is reg­u­lated by the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs.

At a Jan­uary work ses­sion, board mem­bers con­tem­plated sav­ing money in a tight econ­omy by com­pletely cut­ting the pro­gram out of the bud­get.

John Boothby, a Por­terdale res­i­dent and pres­i­dent of the Cov­ing­ton/New­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce, at­tended Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the tourism di­vi­sion of the cham­ber.

He said more than 20,000 outof-town vis­i­tors at­tended var­i­ous com­mu­nity events within the county in 2007.

“Th­ese peo­ple came into our com­mu­nity, spent money on food, tick­ets, ho­tel rooms and gift buy­ing,” Boothby said. “We didn’t have to pay to ed­u­cate their chil­dren and we col­lected rev­enues through sales taxes.”

Boothby added Bat­tle has worked with the Cham­ber’s di­rec­tor of tourism to pro­mote Por­terdale.

“Your di­rec­tor sits on the tourism ad­vi­sory coun­cil and is a very ac­tive and con­tribut­ing mem­ber who has brought fa­vor­able at­ten­tion to Por­terdale and its ef­forts to pro­mote your busi­nesses here,” Boothby said.

He also noted the Cham­ber paid for a Por­terdale brochure to be printed and mailed to 47 re­gional vis­i­tor cen­ters and all 11 state vis­i­tor cen­ters.

Urg­ing the city not to cut fund­ing for the pro­gram, he al­luded to So­cial Cir­cle’s in­creased com­merce as a ben­e­fit brought by their Bet­ter Home­town pro­gram.

“The Cov­ing­ton/New­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce needs the Bet­ter Home­town pro­gram in Por­terdale to be the ve­hi­cle that we work with to bring peo­ple here to spend money at Corkpop­pers, Jimbo’s, Baby Cakes and all other busi­nesses that have put their money on the line in Por­terdale,” Boothby said.

Boothby con­cluded by say- ing elim­i­nat­ing the pro­gram and restart­ing later would be dif­fi­cult be­cause of the lost mo­men­tum and cred­i­bil­ity and pos­si­ble aver­sion of a qual­i­fied di­rec­tor to work for a city that dis­banded the pro­gram af­ter less than a year.

“It would be more than a shame — it would be a trav­esty to turn your back on your grow­ing busi­ness com­mu­nity by ter­mi­nat­ing the Bet­ter Home­town pro­gram at this time,” Boothby said. “My Cham­ber and the state of Ge­or­gia would quickly turn their time, money and at­ten­tion to com­mu­ni­ties that are work­ing harder to help them­selves.”

While the coun­cil de­cided to re­tain the Bet­ter Home­town pro­gram, they voted not to re­new Bat­tle’s con­tract.

Coun­cil­woman Chap­man, af­ter the vote from which she ab­stained, sug­gested a board of direc­tors for the pro­gram be formed im­me­di­ately to work to­ward hir­ing a re­place­ment.

“I think the board should be made up of group of peo­ple drawn from Friends of Por­terdale, our mer­chants, the [Por­terdale] Wo­man’s Club, some­one from the mill and some­one from the coun­cil — just key groups who are ac­tive in the com­mu­nity,” Chap­man said.

Bat­tle filed a for­mal com­plaint with Por­terdale’s city man­ager against Fox­worth and Coun­cil­woman Linda Fin­ger on Dec. 13. Bat­tle said the two coun­cil mem­bers have made slan­der­ous state­ments about her to city mer­chants and pub­licly dis­cussed her per­sonal busi­ness in an open city coun­cil meet­ing.

“All of the above ac­tions have made my work­ing en­vi­ron­ment a hos­tile work­ing place, in­clud­ing the un­pro­fes­sional way I have been treated in the last three city coun­cil meet­ings,” Bat­tle wrote.

The com­plaint re­quests an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the coun­cil mem­bers’ con­duct.

Bat­tle de­scribed the ac­tions of the coun­cil as “un­for­tu­nate.” “Por­terdale has pro­gressed so much is the past few years,” she said, “and it won’t any­more if the coun­cil doesn’t have pro­gres­sive thinkers.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.