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Clarkston can’t provide salary information for director of police services ahead of meeting about police pay

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Clarkston can’t provide salary information for director of police services ahead of meeting about police pay

Clarkston Director of Police Services John Pearson listens from the back of the room during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — Weeks after naming John Pearson as the city’s director of police services, the city of Clarkston is unable to provide information about his salary.

The council plans to meet on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. at city hall, located at 3921 Church Street. The only business on the agenda is staff reports and a measure to increase police pay, though the agenda itself doesn’t include any information about how much more officers would be paid. The city already announced a pay raise of 12.5 percent, bumping up the police starting salary to $52,000, an announcement that came after Councilmember Jamie Carroll tried to add pay raises to the agenda but council members blocked that discussion.

There’s also an executive session planned, but it’s unclear what action the council might take, if any.

Pay is not the only reason officers are leaving. A common refrain is disagreement with the management of City Manager Shawanna Qawiy who is accused of creating a toxic working environment. After Police Chief Christine Hudson filed an equal employment opportunity complaint claiming Qawiy had animus toward white people, Qawiy hired John Pearson as the director of police services and demoted Hudson. In news unrelated to the police department but relevant to the working conditions at city hall, Finance Director Dan Defnall recently warned the council about payment requests from Qawiy.

Clarkston City Manager Shawanna Qawiy (far right) listens to citizen comments during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Weeks after Hudson’s demotion, details about Pearson’s hiring have been hard to come by. After media inquiries, Pearson said in a press release that he was operating on a “verbal agreement” with the city manager and would be sworn in Aug. 1.

But he was sworn in on July 27, the same day Chief Hudson asked Pearson to turn over his gun, badge, and city vehicle.

Decaturish received a trove of records from the city on Aug. 2 in response to several ongoing requests. While those records are being reviewed, the city’s response is notable for what it does not include. When asked for Pearson’s salary, the city clerk said, “All records have been released, however, I do not have a salary available for John Pearson. This request is now closed.”

The request turned up Hudson’s email to Pearson and Qawiy, sent on July 27, asking him to turn over the city-issued items.

Clarkston Police Chief Christine Hudson (right) stands with her attorney Ed Buckley (to her right) during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“Per your press release, you are not authorized to have city issued equipment. In your press release you only stated you have a verbal agreement to be employed effective August 1,” Hudson wrote. “To my knowledge, you have no contract of employment and no city council approval. In our introductory meeting, you advised me that you are my boss, however, as you are not an employee, that is apparently not the case. Therefore, I am obliged to ask you to relinquish your gun, badge, and vehicle immediately unless or until I have been advised you have a signed contract.”

In an email to Qawiy, Hudson said she had been misled by Pearson about his employment status with the city.

“I have concerns that notwithstanding my efforts to increase compensation for our sworn officers, Mr. Pearson has been apparently informed that he will be hired at some as-of-yet undisclosed salary,” Hudson wrote. “This comes as a surprise to me and our officers who badly need a pay increase.”

An initial glimpse at the emails shows even some members of the council — and their attorney, Stephen Quinn — weren’t in the loop about Pearson’s hiring.

City Attorney Stephen Quinn responds to Mayor Beverly Burks inquiry regarding SPLOST funding options for the police department during the Clarkston City Council work session at city hall on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decaturish emailed the full city council on July 17 after learning of Pearson’s hiring. Vice Mayor Debra Johnson forwarded that email to Quinn saying, “These are things that were decided in an executive session. Can you please respond and/or provide guidance?”

Quinn said he did not remember any discussion about Pearson in an executive session, which is a legal closed-door meeting of a governing body.

“I am not familiar with the Mr. Pearson referenced in the message and also do not recall discussing a Mr. Pearson in executive session,” Quinn said. “We received advice from our crisis consultant not to make any statements to the media so that is my guidance for now. I would need to know more about what is going on with Mr. Pearson to advise further.”

In an email to former Councilmember Susan Hood, Johnson said she didn’t know Qawiy intended to hire Pearson.

“We discussed having a consultant for the police and the entire city,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t aware of the actual person that would be hired until we received the email from the city manager.”

Other emails point to behind-the-scenes friction as well.

In an email sent July 3, Mayor Beverly Burks told Qawiy in an email, “Please provide an explanation on the number of officers leaving the department. On Thursday, the chief provided the city manager a number of officers who were leaving the department officially and in turn, the city manager provided that number to the city council. Unfortunately, we have staff members giving city council members different numbers for officers leaving with dates. I need clarity because it gives the appearance that our city staff leadership is not working together in this crisis situation or being transparent to each other and the city council.”

Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks listens to citizen comments during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Hudson provided the update and said if the city lost more officers, it would be down to nine by the end of July. Qawiy forwarded her response to Burks. The police department’s authorized force is 21. The department has 12 officers as of Aug. 2.

The Aug. 3 meeting will be a test of new dynamics for the council. Councilmember Hood, who was one of three votes in favor of taking action against Qawiy, abruptly resigned during a July 27 she called to discuss the community’s concerns about the city manager.

When Hood made her announcement, Councilmembers Laura Hopkins and Jamie Carroll were in the process of planning a closed-door meeting, known as an executive session, to discuss what to do about Qawiy. In addition to Hood, Hopkins, and Carroll favored taking action. According to Hopkins, Councilmembers Awet Eyasu, YT Bell and Vice Mayor Debra Johnson favored doing nothing.

If Hood had remained on the council, the vote would be 3-3 and Mayor Burks would’ve had a vote to break the tie. But with the council split 3-2, Burks no longer has a vote unless a council member abstains or recuses themselves, resulting in a 2-2 split.

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