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Clarkston City Council holding work session amid public pressure to oust city manager

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Clarkston City Council holding work session amid public pressure to oust city manager

L to R City Manager Shawanna Qawiy, Councilmember Susan Hood, Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Mayor Beverly Burks, Councilmember Jamie Carroll, Councilmember Awet Eyasu, Councilmember Laura Hopkins, Councilmember YT Bell. Photo by Sara Amis

Clarkston, GA — The stage has been set for an explosive Clarkston City Council work session on July 25.

City Manager Shawanna Qawiy, already under scrutiny for her handling of the city’s police department, was the subject of a recent email to the city council from the city’s finance director, who warned the council about payment requests from Qawiy.

Councilmembers are publicly sparring over what to do about the city manager, with one councilmember going so far as to name the four other council members who she says are supporting Qawiy. Residents are seeing red and planning on wearing red — and orange — to the upcoming city council meeting to show the council their displeasure with the current state of city hall.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at city hall, located at 3921 Church Street.

The latest revelations about Qawiy, who is already accused of creating a toxic work environment, come from the person who oversees Clarkston’s finances.

Clarkston’s finance director on Friday warned the city council about three different payment requests from Qawiy.

“Given recent scrutiny and questions about contracts and purchasing issues and all of the miscommunication and obvious lack of communication going in this city, I feel the need to bring these items to the attention of the full council immediately,” Finance Director Dan Defnall wrote in an email sent at 4:26 p.m. on Friday, July 21.

Defnall attached the following documents to his email: a quote for security cameras at city hall and two documents pertaining to Vice Mayor Debra Johnson.

One document is a request to reimburse Johnson’s spouse for attending the Georgia Municipal Association Convention and another document is an invoice that was billed to Johnson instead of Qawiy or the city of Clarkston. Defnall’s email cited a section of the city code that says, “Neither the mayor nor any member of the city council shall personally order any goods or services for the city. All purchases shall be made by the city manager, with approval by the city council as a body where appropriate.”

“The attached documents have been given to me by the city manager with intentions for payments being issued,” Defnall said.

To see the email, click here.

Defnall told Decaturish he did send the email, which was provided to Decaturish by Councilmember Jamie Carroll, but Defnall declined further comment. Qawiy has been at the center of an ongoing controversy involving the police department, which is losing officers who are seeking better pay and leaving what they feel is a toxic working environment. Defnall’s letter shows what has been an open secret in Clarkston for months: the police department isn’t the only city department in turmoil.

“The city staff have been inundated with extraordinary levels of open records requests over the past few days,” Defnall wrote.

He also indicated that there may be contracts or agreements with the city that he and other staffers aren’t aware of. Decaturish has requested copies of numerous contracts, including contracts related to the hiring of a human resources company to study working conditions at city hall, a contract to a public relations firm, and a contract for John Pearson, who was hired as director of police services as part of Qawiy’s demotion of Police Chief Christine Hudson.

“Also, let me be clear, the finance director nor city clerk have absolutely no information about any contracts regarding Human Resource Dimensions, John Pearson, or PivotPath,” Defnall wrote. “The city staff need some immediate relief from all of the unnecessary stressful work environment that has existed for months now and continues to escalate daily.”

Carroll has already said the council needs to act regarding Defnall’s email. Councilmember Susan Hood agreed.

“On Monday, I will follow up with the city manager and Mr. Defnall for a thorough explanation of these items,” Hood said. “Residents have a right to know if their tax dollars are being spent legally and in compliance with city regulations.”

Hood said she wants additional information before she makes any decisions.

“Speaking for myself alone, before I do anything, I want the facts,” Hood said. “We have alarming information from a very credible source that there is a problem.  I want an opinion from our city attorney, based on information from both Mr. Defnall and Ms. Qawiy, about whether she violated city purchasing regulations.  I expect this can be done by Wednesday. The results will be made public.”

Decaturish asked Hood whether there would be enough votes on the council to direct the attorney to do anything. She said, “I can’t imagine any council member or the mayor objecting.”

“Bottom line:  We must have a swift and public resolution to this,” Hood said.

Mayor Beverly Burks indicated there would be a closed-door executive session on Tuesday to discuss the issue, and there’s an executive session on the work session agenda. There’s only one other item on the work session agenda: a discussion about increasing police pay.

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