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Avondale mayoral candidate Clai Brown claims ‘zero influence’ over his employment contract

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Avondale mayoral candidate Clai Brown claims ‘zero influence’ over his employment contract

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Avondale Estates City Manger Clai Brown looks on as the parade passes by. Photo by Travis Hudgons


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This story has been updated. 

Avondale Estates Mayoral candidate Clai Brown on Wednesday, Oct. 23, issued a statement that appears to be a response Decaturish.com’s reporting about an amendment to his contract while he was serving as Avondale’s city manager.

Brown says in the press release that he had no influence over his own employment contract.

As previously reported on Decaturish, in 2015 Brown’s contract was amended to include a substantial severance clause if he resigned. It also allowed him to retire at 55, a full 10 years before any other employee.

When he announced his resignation in December 2017, he informed the city he was owed around $300,000, which the city commission refused to pay. Eventually, he settled with the city for around $135,000. Prior to the settlement, the City Commission threatened to fire Brown for cause after the city attorney investigated the matter and uncovered evidence that Brown hid his contract from current members of the city commission, the city’s finance director and external auditor.

The attorney’s conclusions were also supported by interviews with several different people present when the severance became public knowledge, including the former finance director.

In a statement published on Oct. 23, Brown says allegations he hid his contract aren’t true without providing any evidence to support his claims. He says such evidence that would correct the “disinformation” about his contract amendment is contained in the “public record,” but did not say where in the public record that information is located.

The public record shows that information about Brown’s contract was not available to the public when it was approved.

Brown’s severance was never properly approved in a public meeting, the city attorney concluded. The agenda and the minutes for the Feb. 23, 2015 meeting don’t mention it. It’s not contained in the 61-page agenda packet for that meeting. As city manager, Brown would’ve been responsible for ensuring the packet contained all the relevant materials being discussed at that meeting.

Brown has maintained this information was in the agenda packet all along and was disclosed during the meeting where it was voted on.

“It was included in the [City Commission] agenda packet and it was disclosed in the meeting,” Brown said on Aug. 21 of this year.

But there is no evidence of this.

The agenda for that meeting where Brown’s contract amendment was approved did contain an item labeled “Annual Evaluation of City Manager Employment Agreement,” but there’s no supporting documentation in the agenda packet.

Commissioners did vote 3-0 to approve Brown’s “Annual Evaluation” of his employment agreement, the minutes for the Feb. 23, 2015 meeting show.

The audio recording of the meeting shows that the amendment to Brown’s contract wasn’t mentioned before the vote. Former mayor pro tem Terry Giager spoke briefly about the agenda item during that meeting but he didn’t say anything about the severance.

“We’re very fortunate that we’ve arrived at agreement with our city manager Clai Brown to give us another year, and he’s very excited to do that, and as a board we’re very excited for the superb job he does, and as residents we’re very excited as to how the city operates and is working, so we’re happy to announce we have an agreement before us and we’re going to vote on it,” Giager said at the meeting, according to audio posted on the city’s website.

While Brown has issued general denials of Decaturish.com’s reporting, he hasn’t provided any evidence to refute anything this publication has reported about his contract amendment.

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While Brown has said he “invites more community dialog” about the subject, he has not responded to repeated requests for an interview to discuss it.

In his own statement, Brown said he had “zero influence” over his own employment contract as city manager.

“In the aftermath of my resignation and the unintended conflict that arose as our residents struggled to understand decisions made out of public view, claims emerged that my employment agreement, including terms related to resignation and early retirement, were secretive, murky and probably unethical on my part,” Brown said. “As common sense would dictate, city employees cannot approve the terms of their own employment.”

That statement contradicts the account of City Attorney Bob Wilson, who told Decaturish that it was Brown who approached him asking for a reference for an attorney who could help him with his contract.

“Around 2015, Mr. Brown asked me for a referral to an attorney for a personal matter dealing with a contract,” Wilson said. “I referred him to a Decatur attorney. A few weeks later, Mr. Brown presented me with a proposed amendment to his employment contract prepared by that attorney. It was not drafted by me or anyone at our firm. I was never asked to perform any analysis of the amendment such as whether it would be enforceable against a future [City Commission] or whether it was a good idea for the city to agree to the amendment. I did approve the amendment as to form.”

When asked to clarify what “as to form” means, city attorney Stephen Quinn said it “means that the City Attorney finds that the contract is not ambiguous and is not illegal or unconstitutional on its face.”

It isn’t just people within the city of Avondale who have questioned the ethics of Brown’s contract amendment and how it was approved.

As Brown’s resignation drama unfolded in February 2018, International City/County Management Association Executive Director Marc Ott issued a blistering statement condemning Brown’s actions.

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He said, “Avondale Estates City Manager Clai Brown is not a member of ICMA, the International City/County Management Association. Despite that fact, as a public servant, he should be committed to the highest standards of ethical behavior and full transparency.

“The Compensation Guidelines for chief appointed officers developed by ICMA are driven by the ICMA Code of Ethics and are intended to maintain public trust and integrity in local government. In addition to public disclosure of the manager’s agreement, a key element of the guidelines is that every manager ensure that the agreement and amendments are disclosed to relevant elected officials, and this did not appear to have taken place in Avondale Estates. The guidelines also specify that severance should be reasonable and affordable, a standard that Mr. Brown’s $317,000 severance obviously does not [meet].”

Mayor Jonathan Elmore, Brown’s opponent, called Brown’s claims that he had no influence over his employment contract “utter poppycock.”

“He and his lawyer, in my opinion, drafted that thing and put it in front of the board [of mayor and commissioners] and said, ‘If you don’t do this, I’m going to leave.’ That’s my opinion,” Elmore said. “That’s my conjecture. Why in the world would a board come up with that? What incentive would the board have to give him a golden parachute? It came from him. He asked Bob Wilson for a reference, Bob Wilson gave it to him.”

Elmore said Brown should tell voters why he thinks his severance and early retirement was in the city’s best interest.

“Three hundred grand, that’s a lot of cops, that’s a lot of sidewalks,” Elmore said. “How is your bank account more important than any of those things? There’s no way he can ever escape that question and he will never answer it.”

City Commissioner Brian Fisher, who is running for reelection and has said that he wasn’t aware of the severance until Brown announced his resignation, said he was “disappointed” in Brown’s statement. He encouraged Brown to sit down with Decaturish for an interview to answer questions about his contract.

“I think he has the opportunity to speak with many people about the events that took place and he’s refused it each time,” Fisher said. “I think putting out a statement without any facts to back it up, no public record, nothing, is just disappointing. It continues to play into driving a rift within our community. The social media stuff you see with people going back and forth, it doesn’t help us. He continues to make that rift deeper.”

Here is Brown’s full statement published on Oct. 23:

Avondale Estates Mayoral Candidate Clai Brown Refutes Disinformation, Invites More Community Dialog

AVONDALE ESTATES, Ga., Oct. 23, 2019 (SEND2PRESS NEWSWIRE) — 2019 Candidate for Mayor and former City Manager Clai Brown (https://claibrownformayor.com/) has issued the following statement to ensure Avondale Estates citizens have access to facts on matters that may determine their November 5 election-day decisions about the future of their unique city and community.

“As anyone who has known me during my decade-long tenure as Avondale Estates city manager will tell you, I am not a hothead. I do not seek out confrontation, and I do not relish pointing out the mistakes of others. It’s just not how I was raised, so I’ve remained quiet when confronted with disinformation and personal attacks about my decision to resign in 2017 and an employment contract over which I had zero influence. Perhaps too quiet for my own good. My faith that truth ultimately triumphs comes from the values I learned as a child. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed the old adage that ‘No good comes from wrestling with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it.’

However, last weekend I changed my mind, because I realized that the absence of a factual account does not begin with the events leading up to and culminating in my resignation, but hails all the way back to my initial employment agreement with the City and through the annual employee review cycle during which my tenure was brought before the board, praised explicitly and extended. My conviction that truth prevails is unwavering, but my commitment to transparency and to the loyalty of my family, friends, supporters and neighbors demands that I speak out now.

My 2017 decision to resign was based primarily on my concern that elected officials, whether by ignorance or naivete, were not adhering to the City Charter and in particular to Section 2.30 related to Commission interference with administration. The official with authority to correct the situation failed to do so. My decision was painful, but ethically unavoidable, as I felt I had explored every alternative for resolving the issues. Frankly, I no longer had the conviction that I could do what was best for my hometown in the role of City Manager.

Not only was it time for me to go, it was also time for me to seek another role from which I could lead effectively. From my perspective, Avondale Estates may be growing and modernizing, but that does not mean it must shed long-standing traditions of transparency, integrity, trust or adherence to documented governing principles.

I think we can agree that we need them now more than ever.

In the aftermath of my resignation and the unintended conflict that arose as our residents struggled to understand decisions made out of public view, claims emerged that my employment agreement, including terms related to resignation and early retirement, were secretive, murky and probably unethical on my part. As common sense would dictate, city employees cannot approve the terms of their own employment. My only involvement in the terms of my hiring was possessing a valuable skillset and loyalty to a budget-conscious municipality poised for unprecedented change. The city of Avondale Estates made its offer, and I accepted the job as a career decision in line with my experience and skills.

It is that simple. The spurious assertion that I manipulated or conspired to influence my employment contract with Avondale Estates either at the time of my hiring or at any juncture prior to my resignation offends my family’s reputation and can easily be disproven by reading public record.

I encourage every resident of our unique community who has questions or concerns about my record as City Manager of Avondale Estates and my vision for the future of our city to visit https://claibrownformayor.com/.

Further, I urge our residents to RSVP to one or more of the remaining hosted community events where you can learn more about why I believe I am the most qualified candidate to become the next mayor of Avondale Estates – the city I am proud to call my hometown.”

Visit the Clai Brown for Mayor website to RSVP for one of these Meet & Greet opportunities to discuss these issues with Clai one-to-one:

10/27: 4-5:30 p.m.
10/29: 7-8:30 p.m.
11/1: 7-8:30 p.m.

If you have any questions, please contact Clai at [email protected] or by telephone at 404-963-6108.

Paid for by Clai Brown for Mayor.

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