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Clarkston city manager demotes police chief, hires new director of police services

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Clarkston city manager demotes police chief, hires new director of police services

Clarkston City Hall and Police Department. Photo by Dean Hesse

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston City Manager Shawanna Qawiy has demoted Police Chief Christine Hudson amid ongoing chaos at city hall.

Hudson confirmed that John Pearson is now the director of police services, a new position within the city. Clarkston has not announced the hire publicly, and Pearson’s information is not on the city’s website.

Decaturish has filed a records request for information about Pearson’s salary.

Hudson recently announced she intends to retire and has filed a grievance against Qawiy alleging she has “animus” toward white people and that she kept a secret personnel file about her. The grievance came after Qawiy suspended Hudson without pay, accusing her of insubordination and “conduct unbecoming a city employee,” among other allegations.

Qawiy has disputed those allegations. The police department is in free fall as officers bail for higher pay and a less toxic working environment.

Clarkston’s police department has been in crisis for months, amid warnings from Hudson and vocal complaints from officers that they were understaffed, underpaid, and in danger due to a lack of backup.

According to Hudson, from a full complement of 21 officers, the department is down to 14, but that number will drop even lower quickly. Hudson previously said there are resignations that have already been turned in, bringing the number of officers down to 12. By the end of July, Hudson said, Clarkston will have only nine officers in their police department. Clarkston holding a police job fair on July 26.

Decaturish recently published an editorial calling for Clarkston to part ways with its city manager amid her tensions with the police department and other city staff. The editorial was prompted by a statement Qawiy gave to 11 Alive about an attempt by Councilmember Jamie Carroll to put police pay raises on the city council agenda.

Qawiy asked 11 Alive to correct its reporting on the matter, saying, “You reported that the city council ‘voted not to hear’ a proposed increase in starting police officer salary at its June meeting. This is misleading. The city council never acted to deny a salary increase to our police officers; the council merely declined to add a police salary item to a busy agenda at the last minute.”

But that’s not true. What 11 Alive reported is accurate. Decaturish reported it as well, though the city did not issue a similar request for correction. Carroll confirmed that he notified the council a week before that he intended to put this item on the agenda. He also told Decaturish about his plans before the meeting.

Because the city manager provided easily fact-checked misinformation to a local media outlet, Decaturish.com’s publisher, Dan Whisenhunt, has decided that all future questions about city operations will be directed to the mayor and city council. If the council doesn’t answer questions, the information will be obtained via open records requests. Decaturish has also notified the council that we will not be working with any public relations firms hired by the city until further notice.

Carroll was out of the country when contacted about the city’s hiring of Pearson. Councilmember Laura Hopkins responded by publicly identifying the council members she says are supporting Qawiy.  According to Hopkins, right now, the council is split 3-3 and Mayor Beverly Burks is the tie-breaking fourth vote in favor of keeping Qawiy. Hopkins said she favors parting ways with Qawiy and is supported by Councilmembers Carroll and Susan Hood.

Hopkins clarified that her information does not come from closed-door meetings of the council, known as executive sessions.

“Just to be clear, this is not info gained from a vote at executive session, which I would be required to keep confidential,” Hopkins said. “However, those maintaining Shawanna’s presence in Clarkston are [Mayor] Beverly Burks, [Councilmembers] YT Bell, Awet Eyasu, and [Vice Mayor] Debra Johnson. Those who would encourage her to move on are myself, Jaime Carroll, and Susan Hood. I don’t think that the council has ever divided up this way before. I don’t know what it will take to get the fourth vote.”

Other council members did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Hopkins’ email.

Hopkins’ comments upset Burks.

“I have not said I’m for or against Shawanna in any way,” Burks said. “I am disturbed I have a council member going beyond executive session saying things. If we are trying to work together as a team to address a problem, then we need to work together as a team.” 

Hopkins said it was “really disheartening” to hear about the hiring of Pearson and the demotion of Hudson.

“I heard after the chief was told she had a new boss,” Hopkins said. “I called to verify it with the mayor, and she verified it, questioning only his exact job title. It would be hard to make a case that this is not retribution. I have no idea how long this was in the works. I also agree that if there was no money for moderate raises for officers, it doesn’t follow that there could be money for a duplicate chief.”

Hopkins is one of three council members who are up for reelection this November. The other council members are Eyasu and Johnson. If the city’s residents elect council members who support removing the city manager, the earliest that could happen is January.

“I agree that the damage that could be done between now and January could be catastrophic beyond Clarkston’s ability to recover,” Hopkins said. “Some residents have called for the dissolution of the city. However, I have realized now that the chance of Shawanna stepping down for the good of the city is as likely as Donald Trump conceding defeat for the good of the nation. Her followers (four on council, three others in the city staff) have equally stepped into a reality with only a mild acquaintance with our own. Those seven seem to feel that they are reflective of all people in Clarkston. No amount of reason, evidence, coaxing, or cajoling can reach them. Pointing out clear documentation of Qawiy lying to the council has no effect. It breaks my heart because, at various times, I have knocked on doors and distributed campaign literature for all four. I consider them friends, but this idea of speaking with one voice is over.”

Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story. 

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