published Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., cases await legal ruling

The future of four court cases that could cost most Fort Oglethorpe councilmen their jobs is up in the air.

Last week, the city officials' defense attorneys argued in Catoosa County Superior Court that all of the cases should be dismissed. Now, attorneys on both sides await Judge Jon B. Wood's decision. He did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

If the civil cases are not dismissed, defense attorneys argued on Sept. 11, the four cases should at least be consolidated. Now, the attorneys are handling four cases that deal with identical allegations and evidence.

The cases began in May, when residents Christine McKeever and Louise Stinnett filed actions seeking the removal of Mayor Lynn Long and three other members of the City Council: Louis Hamm, Clay Kissner and Johnnie Smith.

The cases revolve around what happened six months ago at City Hall. On March 22, during a special meeting, City Manager Ron Goulart resigned. Then, Hamm, Kissner, Long and Smith voted to appoint Harold Silcox as the interim manager. About half an hour later, Silcox fired police chief David Eubanks and Public Works director Jeff Long.

In court filings, McKeever and Stinnett say the four councilmen were part of an illegal conspiracy. After allegedly telling Goulart on March 21 he needed to resign or he'd be fired, Lynn Long supposedly met with Hamm, Kissner and Smith in the mayor's office. They offered Silcox the interim city manager job in exchange for his promise to fire Eubanks and Jeff Long, according to the filings.

Lawyers representing the councilmen deny this is how the city manager position changed hands. And, in their motion to dismiss the case, the defense -- City Attorney Robert Stultz and Atlanta-based lawyer Charles Palmer -- says the citizens filing the case cannot prove that the secret meetings ever happened.

"The actions for removal filed by the Plaintiffs plainly fail as a matter of law, even if taken as true [which they most certainly are not]," Palmer and Stultz wrote in the motion, filed in July.

In arguing that the mayor and three other councilmen should lose their jobs, the city residents cited Fort Oglethorpe's charter. They said the councilmen's actions were be oppressive, tyrannical and illegal. Any of these, if proven, would be grounds for removing the councilmen, according to the charter.

But the defense says state law contradicts these city laws, and that Georgia trumps Fort Oglethorpe in a dispute. The city officials' lawyers argue that Georgia's Recall Act of 1989 repealed all local recall laws and prohibited local governments from creating new ones.

"The actions filed by the Plaintiffs constitute a significant distraction to the important governing activities of the city of Fort Oglethorpe and can only be viewed as a political ploy," Palmer and Stultz wrote.

John O. Wiggins, the attorney representing McKeever and Stinnett, did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

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