published Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Fort Oglethorpe council forces City Manager Ron Goulart to resign

Former Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart
Former Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart
Ronnie Moore

FORT OGLETHORPE — It was all a coup d'etat.

One hour after Clay Kissner was sworn in as Fort Oglethorpe's new city councilman, the council forced the resignation of seasoned City Manager Ron Goulart.

Moments later the council named Harold Silcox, a former City Council member, as interim city manager. Within 30 minutes, Silcox fired two longtime department heads.

Goulart, who was given four months severance pay, and Police Chief David Eubanks and Public Works Director Jeff Long, who were not given severance pay, say politics was at work.

"It's just typical dirty politics," Long said.

Even one councilman claims Friday afternoon's speedy house cleaning will set the city back for years.

"This is a sad day for the city of Fort Oglethorpe," said Councilman Earl Gray.

For the last five months, the council has been two members short and has deadlocked on key issues such as Sunday alcohol sales. Former Councilman Eddie Stinnett died of a heart attack in October, and Charles Sharrock was ousted the same month after sexual harassment claims. His seat hasn't been filled.

In a special election Tuesday, voters elected Kissner to fill Stinnett's seat. He was appointed at 2 p.m. Friday, an hour before council members held the special meeting. The meeting -- which was noted on a bulletin board but not announced in a public notice to the media like normal practice -- was called by Mayor Lynn Long.

Goulart announced his resignation when the council emerged from an executive session.

Lynn Long then made a motion for Silcox, who was sitting in the audience, to fill Goulart's position. Gray was the only council member to object, and when he tried to have an open discussion in the meeting about both Goulart's resignation and Silcox's appointment, he was shushed.

The councilmen quickly emptied the room after the meeting, some denying requests for comment on their decision. When asked whether Goulart was forced to resign, Lynn Long repeated: "That was his decision. That was his decision."

But Goulart said that on Thursday he was confronted by the mayor, who came to his office and told him to resign or be fired. "I have the votes," Goulart remembers the mayor saying.

After Friday's meeting, the newly appointed interim city manager took Eubanks and Jeff Long into a City Hall office.

First Silcox fired Eubanks and then Jeff Long -- breaking policy in the city's charter. City policy states that when a city employee is fired, officials must give the reasons in writing along with instruction that the employee has 15 days to appeal. Neither Long nor Eubanks said they were given a reason in writing.

Jeff Long, who is also a Catoosa County Commission member, said he was told the reason he was fired was for making a motion on the county panel that hurt Fort Oglethorpe.

Earlier this month, Catoosa County officials asked local lawmakers for legislation to deannex 42 acres of prime real estate on Battlefield Parkway. If passed, Fort Oglethorpe would lose all property and sales tax revenue.

When Silcox was questioned about who was in charge of the police force, he mistakenly said "Eubanks." Then corrected himself and said talk to the mayor.

Before City Hall was closed for the weekend, city employees sat frozen in their chairs with shocked faces.

Police officers stood outside the meeting hall with arms crossed.

A woman walked up to Goulart and hugged him, saying, "I'm terribly, terribly sorry for what they've done to you."

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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