UPDATED OPINION — Come let us reason together
A COLUMN OF OPINION, UPDATED WITH ALL THE LETTERS — After Thursday night’s historically unprecedented Peachtree City Council action, we could use some reason. What we’ve got is raw political opportunism, self-righteous posturing, gross abuse of power and an almost textbook violation of the U.S. Constitution and Georgia Constitution.
To recap, the council voted 4-to-1 to garnish the monthly salary of Mayor Don Haddix. He goes from the princely sum of $750 a month down to $75. They didn’t call it garnishment because that would be an illegal action.
(For those who respect the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution, I suggest you look up "Bill of Attainder." See footnote below. Also, click on the attachment link following this column for the correspondence provided by Peachtree City.)
Councilman Eric Imker, seeing an opening to humiliate and irreparably wound his council nemesis, took up the torch and the noose to lead a political lynching. Imker called the action a move to recover an unexpected expense in a budget line item. [Imker responds in this letter to the editor received after print deadline.]
The stated reason for the council action was to recover more than $10,000 that Imker said he had calculated Haddix had cost the city during the legal defense of a libel suit against Haddix.
My opinion is this: The council majority has become the equivalent of the pro-union mobs in Wisconsin. They have decided to run a legally elected official out of office, stripping him of even his salary, with no thought of due process or constitutional rights or any such legal niceties.
The rough-shod majority exercised a punitive confiscation of an elected official’s pay with no hearing of criminal or ethical charges, no substantive notice, no laying of a legal foundation or establishing what prior council precedents have been consulted and followed. Not even a legal opinion in public from the city attorney.
The council has acted precipitously and without legal or political precedent in Peachtree City history, probably without precedent in Georgia’s long and checkered history.
A council majority has turned its power of the purse into a weapon aimed at a single member of council.
That’s a breathtakingly naked abuse of power, however satisfying a result it may seem to a vocal segment of Peachtree City residents, a few of whom who seem to be suffering from the localized version of the well-known leftist Bush Derangement Syndrome of the earlier part of the previous decade.
This is wrong on so many levels, not the least the council’s arrogance that they have the plenary power to abrogate an elected official’s constitutional right of due process.
The council has without a trial and certainly without the slightest semblance of stating a legal justification — a law, an ordinance, a rule, anything — convicted in a public meeting this duly elected official of misappropriation of city funds and sentenced him to the penalty of humiliation and loss of compensation.
The accused was allowed only a statement after the matter was decided, off camera, by the four members of the majority colluding in a proceeding that has never been done before in Peachtree City, never before in Fayette County and probably never before in the state of Georgia.
He was afforded no opportunity to present witnesses, precedents or supporting documents at this staged faux morality play.
The four — Imker, Kim Learnard, Vanessa Fleisch, and George Dienhart — have demeaned the concept of justice.
Incredibly short-sighted about the precedent they have set, the council majority apparently has not been troubled by the thought that the same naked abuse of power could be turned against any one of them who fall out of favor with the council majority in the future.
Any one of them could be sued for any frivolous reason by a deep-pockets adversary in their “private individual” capacity and not their “official” capacity. And any one of them could be bankrupted by such a lawsuit, regardless of the merit of the action. But that thought never crossed their self-righteous minds.
Has Peachtree City government fallen so far into dysfunction that its majority believes it is empowered to silence an elected individual’s right to free speech in the political arena and to strip the salary from a public official that the majority decides is sufficiently out of favor with the majority and the public?
If Haddix wrongfully took city money, legal steps are available to prove that contention and legal avenues are available to penalize him, or any elected official who is convicted in a court of law.
Recall him, if you have grounds that will withstand legal scrutiny and an informed electorate. Outvote him on every occasion with your 4-to-1 majority. But don’t pretend that what you have done has ever been been done before to anybody elected to public office in this city, this county.
This was no court of law, and the council’s extra-legal power play likely would not stand up in a true court of law.
Whatever you think of the hapless Haddix and his unerring ability to say or do the outrageously wrong thing, somebody has to throw a flag and call a foul.
Consider this as the whistle. Wait a minute, people — this is just flat wrong.
Haddix did a series of stupid things, but no one has seriously suggested so far that he broke any law or even any city ordinance.
And in the scheme of things — including an Imker-pushed pool bubble that is ballooning toward three-quarters of a million dollars in direct costs to Peachtree City taxpayers for a facility that likely less than 5 percent of city taxpayers ever use or even set foot in — the $10,000 city reimbursement of a liability insurance deductible is a rounding error in the city budget.
The cause of the mob action has its genesis in an email Haddix sent to one now-departed city employee arguing against extending hours for alcohol sales at local watering holes. It was Haddix acting in his official capacity as mayor explaining why he as a public official objected to the proposed change in the city ordinance.
Agree or disagree with his position: It was city business.
He basically said even former Mayor Harold Logsdon was against extending alcohol sale hours. He stupidly used one hyphenated and artless term that he probably sincerely believed.
That email to the one city employee somehow got disseminated and came to the attention of Logsdon, who cried, “Libel!” and demanded a Haddix apology. (Wonder how that email got to Logsdon?)
Never one to take an easy way if a hard way is available, Haddix declined to apologize, resulting in court action.
Eventually, Haddix must have decided to throw in his cards and pay Logsdon $3,000. Presumably, the rest of the 10 grand was for Haddix’s attorney or other legal fees.
Continuing his stupid process, Haddix failed to inform the rest of the council that the city by contract was on the hook for reimbursing the city’s liability carrier.
By now the anti-Haddix voices were in full-throated aggrieved howl. Bring out the torches and the rope; let’s find a suitable tree.
That tree was a Thursday council meeting and the rope handlers were four otherwise intelligent people caught up in the blood lust: Finally, we’ve got him!
Don Haddix is bull-headed and apparently cannot admit when he is wrong. He has a tendency — not unknown in political circles — of taking credit for stuff that he is not entitled to take credit for.
And he has the remarkable ability to cause otherwise reasonable people to foam at the mouth and gnash their teeth. He resembles a previous mayor in that regard.
The column’s title is from Isaiah 1:18, at the very beginning of a book in which God is beseeching a people to get some perspective about something beyond themselves.
There are some important principles involved here, but not the false flags being advanced by Imker and Councilwoman Learnard and the other two.
The entire Peachtree City Council is in dire need of some reasonable perspective, some sense of proportion, some respect for precedent, some deferral to normal political processes.
The costs they have visited upon the Peachtree City body politic in their overarching arrogance are far beyond the $10,000 being waved by ambitious majority members like a bloody shirt.
Perhaps Mr. Imker is learned enough to remember a famous rebuke of Senator Joseph McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]
*FOOTNOTE of the relevant portions of the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, federal case law and a Federalist viewpoint —
The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3 provides that: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed.”
“The Bill of Attainder Clause was intended not as a narrow, technical (and therefore soon to be outmoded) prohibition, but rather as an implementation of the separation of powers, a general safeguard against legislative exercise of the judicial function or more simply — trial by legislature.” U.S. v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 440 (1965).
“These clauses of the Constitution are not of the broad, general nature of the Due Process Clause, but refer to rather precise legal terms which had a meaning under English law at the time the Constitution was adopted. A bill of attainder was a legislative act that singled out one or more persons and imposed punishment on them, without benefit of trial. Such actions were regarded as odious by the framers of the Constitution because it was the traditional role of a court, judging an individual case, to impose punishment.” William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court, page 166.
“Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligations of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation. ... The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less-informed part of the community.” James Madison, Federalist Number 44, 1788.
From the Georgia Constitution —
Georgia Constitution, Article I, Section 1
Paragraph I. Life, liberty, and property. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law.
Paragraph X. Bill of attainder; ex post facto laws; and retroactive laws. No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, retroactive law, or laws impairing the obligation of contract or making irrevocable grant of special privileges or immunities shall be passed.
|Haddix-letter to GMA.pdf||1.38 MB|