Clarkston Finance Director warns council about payment requests from city managerClarkston Finance Director Dan Defnall. Photo obtained via the city of Clarkston
Clarkston, GA — Clarkston’s Finance Director on Friday warned the city council about three different payment requests from Clarkston City Manager Shawanna 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.
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 said the council needs to act on the information in Defnall’s email.
“These are very serious allegations and the Clarkston city council should immediately investigate them,” Carroll said.
The rest of the city council did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Defnall’s email.
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 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.
Councilmember Laura Hopkins responded to the news of Pearson’s hiring 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’ comments upset Burks, who said she has not taken a position about Qawiy.
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.
Here is Defnall’s full email and the attachments are linked beneath it:
From: Dan Defnall <[email protected]>
Sent: Friday, July 21, 2023 4:26 PM
To: Beverly Burks <[email protected]>; Yt Bell <[email protected]>; Jamie Carroll <[email protected]>; Awet Eyasu <[email protected]>; Susan Hood <[email protected]>; Laura Hopkins <[email protected]>; Debra Johnson <[email protected]>
Dear Mayor and Council,
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. The attached documents have been given to me by the City Manager with intentions for payments being issued.
1. An executed quote from Prologic ITS Camera Systems – I received this signed quote from the City Manager and there was no scope of work or description of what all of this equipment and installation was for. After contacting the vendor representation, they provided the detailed explanation of work that is attached. My concern is this item has not budgeted and has not been presented to the City council as a critical need.
2. GMA Annual Convention Reimbursement Request – This request is a for a council member’s spouse is not a legitimate city expenditure and should not be reimbursed by the City.
3. Bare in Mind Productions Invoice and City Code Sec. 2-48 – I believe item this is a legitimate city expense and should be paid to the vendor as it for a minimal amount, however after reviewing our city code relative to purchasing and Section 2.48 specifically prohibits elected officials for conducting purchasing activities for the City.
The city staff have been inundated with extraordinary levels of open records requests over the past few days. 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. 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.
Dan Defnall, Finance Director
City of Clarkston
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