UPDATED — Imker: No law prevents mayor’s pay cut
PTC Council votes 4-1 to take Haddix’s salary to recoup $10K cost of lawsuit; Haddix mulls suing city or resigning; read the letters
The hefty pay cut dealt to Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix by his fellow council members Thursday night is not prevented by any law, according to Councilman Eric Imker.
While Haddix didn’t say Monday if he would file a lawsuit to reinstate his full $750 a month salary, he also didn’t back off the concept of perhaps resigning from office.
“If they honestly think I’m bluffing, they’ve got a surprise coming for them, that’s all I can say,” Haddix said.
Council’s 4-1 vote, with Haddix against, reduced his pay to just under $75 a month as a way to recoup nearly $10,000 in legal bills that the city’s insurance company reimbursed Haddix for to cover a lawsuit filed against him as a private citizen. [Click the link following this story to view a pdf file of the correspondence mentioned.]
The lawsuit filed by former Mayor Harold Logsdon claimed that Haddix libeled him in an email to a city staffer by saying that Logsdon would attend council meetings “part drunk.” The dispute was settled in December when Haddix agreed to pay Logsdon $3,000 and author an apology.
City taxpayers indirectly paid for Haddix’s $9,969 in legal fees because the city’s insurance carrier, Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, reversed its course earlier this year and declared that Haddix would be reimbursed for his expenditures.
That decision did not cost GIRMA. Instead, the city had to cut a check to GIRMA to cover the total expense because it did not surpass the city’s $25,000 deductible.
At the May 17 council meeting, Haddix was firm in his stance that he would not repay the city for the expenditure. Haddix said he deserved the legal coverage since the email he sent to the city staffer, which contained the questionable language, was done as part of his official duties as mayor.
Haddix did not notify any of his fellow council members that he was seeking reimbursement from GIRMA via three letters written at Haddix’s request by City Attorney Ted Meeker.
Logsdon has previously said he sued Haddix personally and not in his official capacity so taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill for Haddix’s legal defense.
As for why Imker on Thursday night didn’t explain the city’s legal standing for drastically reducing Haddix’s pay, Imker said he didn’t want to draw the matter out and “make this a spectacle.”
“The point was to recover the money for our budget. That was the goal and to do it in the most cost effective way possible,” Imker said. “... That was all we wanted, we wanted our money back from a guy who was unwilling to do the right thing as far as I am concerned.”
Imker said instead of taking the matter to court, it was taken care of with a simple “budget decision” that will be in effect for the final three months of the fiscal year, with plans to extend the salary cut over the next fiscal year.
Should Haddix decide to sue his fellow council members to try and reinstate his full salary, he will not be able to have a city-paid attorney because such an action would not be covered under the city’s indemnification clause, Imker noted. Presuming that the city would prevail in such a legal action, Imker said he would then ask council to pursue assessment of any incurred legal fees against Haddix as well.
There is established Georgia case law that says a government agency is not responsible for slanderous remarks made by an employee, Imker noted, citing a 2006 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals in a case titled Tootle v. Cartee.
Imker said that research by City Attorney Ted Meeker showed that there is no case law or state law that keeps the city council from reducing the mayor’s salary.
“That’s the basis for us to be allowed to reduce the salary,” Imker said. “So there’s nothing illegal about it. If there was something illegal about it, we’d have state law, ordinances or case law that says that. Haddix has absolutely no claim to base his appeal on.”
Further, the city was merely seeking to recover the money for the taxpayers by accounting for an “unexpected expense,” Imker said.
“We made a budget adjustment to insure the taxpayers don’t have any millage rate impact,” Imker said.
Imker said in asking Haddix to resign, he has advocated for the mayor to resign after Jan. 1, 2013, which would avoid the need for a special election by having council members appoint a replacement mayor. Haddix has contended that if he resigns, his fellow council members will have to explain to the citizens the need for paying for a special election to fill the mayor’s seat.
Imker also defended Meeker’s actions in the case, saying that the city attorney “had no choice” but to author the letter that won the legal fees from GIRMA.
Imker explained that Meeker is required to keep city legal matters confidential any time advice or action is sought from him by any council member or the mayor. In this case, the mayor directed Meeker to write the letter, Imker said.
|Haddix-letter to GMA.pdf||1.38 MB|