Accusations fly at Clarkston town hall that prompted resignation of city councilmemberIslam Qawiy stands with signs in support of his sister, Clarkston City Manager Shawanna Qawiy before the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Clarkston, GA — The city of Clarkston held a town hall meeting on July 27 to hear public input about recent problems at city hall involving City Manager Shawanna Qawiy.
The meeting’s highlights included accusations, bizarre statements from the city manager’s brother about the racial purity of the city’s police chief, and the surprise resignation of Susan Hood, the councilmember who called the meeting. That resignation provided Qawiy with an extra layer of job security by removing one of three potential votes against her. The council had been planning an executive session to deal with an email from the city’s finance director about payment requests he’d received from Qawiy, but with Hood gone, it is unlikely the meeting will result in any consequences for the city manager.
The friction between Qawiy and Police Chief Christine Hudson led to Hudson filing an EEOC complaint and a grievance against her following a five-day suspension by Qawiy. Hudson has alleged that Qawiy has “animus” toward white people. After Hudson filed the complaint, Qawiy demoted her and hired John Pearson as the Director of Police Services, but he wasn’t sworn in until this week, despite Hudson alleging he’d received a badge, gun, and car from the city.
Amidst the turmoil, police officers have been leaving the city, citing low pay and a toxic work environment they accuse Qawiy of creating.
Mayor Beverly Burks opened the town hall meeting with a call for civility. “Be mindful of everyone in this room,” Burks said.
That didn’t evaporate immediately. It was a long meeting. But evaporate it did.
Before the shouting started, many speakers including Victor Johnson, Gloria Kilanko, Michael Maisano, and others called for an outside investigator to determine the truth of what was happening in the city government.
“People need facts,” a woman named Samia said.
Other residents praised both the city manager and the police chief. Robyn Sands expressed concern that whoever builds back the police force without Hudson will go against the community policing approach which drew her to Clarkston in the first place.
“Clarkston police approached policing in ways I had not seen since I was a child,” Sands said.
Chief Court Clerk Dorothy Jackson stood up and made a series of accusations against Hudson, including claims that she and Qawiy had been threatened by a “known associate” of Hudson’s who had gone into City Hall demanding to see Qawiy and blocked Qawiy’s door.
“Ask Chief Hudson why this known associate was coming in and out of her office three days before,” Jackson said.
After Jackson made these accusations, several people vocally objected, while others defended her right to speak. A detective who investigated the incident said that Hudson’s only relationship with that individual was as a police chief to a resident.
When Jackson finished speaking, Hood stood up and announced her resignation.
“I have seen a lot in my life. I’ve never seen anything like this. Character assassination, unfounded rumors.” Hood said. “The only thing that should matter, that nobody cares about, is competence and accountability. Attack each other. Believe in unfounded rumors. I’m going home.”
Two members of Qawiy’s family spoke. Her older brother Islam Qawiy said that the city manager had been threatened and was a victim of racism.
Islam Qawiy bizarrely challenged Hudson’s EEOC claim by questioning her racial background.
“Can somebody here make me a million-dollar bet that the chief of police is 100% white?” Islam Qawiy asked.
After the city manager’s brother made that statement, there was a moment of stunned silence and someone said, “Wow.” Then everyone started yelling again.
Resident Chris Busing asked the city manager if she had really said that she couldn’t trust white people, as Hudson alleged in her complaint.
A number of people began trying to shout Busing down. Burks had to intervene more than once to allow Busing to finish his allotted three minutes.
Busing said that Qawiy was not qualified for the job and went on to accuse the city manager of deliberately sabotaging the city.
“I don’t think she’s stupid. I think she’s smart,” Busing said.
The meeting seemed about to devolve into a shouting match before Burks restored order.
She pointed out that she gave everyone an equal chance to speak, and that most people had done so respectfully.
“Look at how many people came out. Look at how gracious people have been in their comments. You be gracious to your fellow residents in this room,” Burks said. “…When you have people with a good spirit having a chance to speak, and in an instant seeing that rage come out, that isn’t doing our city any good.”
Some residents decried the spectacle.
Resident Renita Knight said, “I’m embarrassed. This is 2023. How long are we going to keep this going on? We’re all grown. We don’t hate anybody. If you hate anybody, whoever your God is, you need to get on your knees.”
A police officer, Lt. Pope, got up and quietly reminded everyone that he and his officers were working long hours to try to police the city.
“I can’t tell you what I made in 2010, but I can tell you about that child I found in the woods,” Pope said. “…My officers are still out there every day. I don’t want that to be forgotten.”
Burks thanked everyone for coming and said that Hood had called the meeting because she thought it would benefit the community.
“She wanted to give everyone a chance to be heard,” Burks said.
Here are more photos from the July 27 town hall event:
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