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Clarkston City Council ‘to consider action’ on city manager’s employment

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Clarkston City Council ‘to consider action’ on city manager’s employment

Clarkston City Manager Shawanna Qawiy thanks people for their support during the Clarkston City Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston City Council will discuss City Manager Shawanna Qawiy’s employment with the city at a special called city council meeting on Monday, Aug. 7.

The meeting will be held on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Clarkston Women’s Club, located at 3913 Church Street. To see the full agenda for the Aug. 7 Clarkston City Council meeting, click here.

Qawiy, who has been accused of creating a toxic work environment in the city, has a contract that is of “indefinite duration” unless the city terminates her. Qawiy’s predecessor, Robin Gomez, also had a contract that was of “indefinite duration,” according to records provided by the city.

According to Qawiy’s contract, she makes $135,000 per year. Former City Councilmember Mark Perkins recently wrote a letter to the editor explaining the council’s options for parting ways with Qawiy.

“Without a resignation letter from the city manager, the council has three options,” Perkins wrote. “First, they can keep on going as if nothing is wrong. Second, the council may terminate the city manager without cause, paying her $67,500, the equivalent of 6 months of her base pay. Finally, the third option is immediate, for-cause termination.”

The city manager can be terminated “for cause” if one of the following conditions has been met:

1) Indictment for a crime,

2) A violation of the city’s Code of Ethics, or

3) “[…] dishonesty, gross or repeated negligence, incompetency, insubordination, or any conduct that is detrimental to the public perception of the City.”

To see Qawiy’s contract, click here.

What the council will do is anyone’s guess. The council met on Aug. 3 for an executive session but left without taking any action. Councilmember Laura Hopkins spilled tea on the council’s current split: according to Hopkins, she favors taking action on Qawiy’s employment along with Councilmembers Jamie Carroll and Susan Hood. She said that Councilmembers YT Bell, Awet Eyasu and Vice Mayor Debra Johnson are siding with Qawiy, along with Mayor Beverly Burks, who strongly disputed that assertion, saying she hasn’t picked a side.

In a dramatic turn of events, last week Hood abruptly resigned following a tense town hall where Qawiy’s brother, Islam Qawiy, showed up and made statements about the racial purity of Clarkston Police Chief Christine Hudson, who has a pending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Qawiy for allegedly having “animus” toward white people. The EEOC complaint followed Qawiy suspending Hudson without pay for five days starting April 13, accusing her of insubordination and “conduct unbecoming a city employee,” among other allegations. In her response to Hudson’s grievance, which was filed on April 20, Qawiy upheld the suspension but reinstated Hudson’s pay. In her response, Qawiy denies being biased against white people.

Before the Aug. 3 meeting, Hood announced she had changed her mind and rejoined the council. The city attorney said she never technically officially resigned.

Meanwhile, the Clarkston Police Department is losing officers over pay and the working environment. The council plans to take up the subject of police pay at the Aug. 7 meeting, according to the agenda. For more information about the police pay discussion, click here.

Other allegations have been leveled at Qawiy:

— Records obtained by Decaturish show that Finance Director Dan Defnall recently threatened legal action against the city following a confrontation with City Manager Shawanna Qawiy over the availability of rental assistance funds. This came two weeks after Defnall warned the council about payment requests he’d received from the city manager, two of which involved 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.

He also indicated that there may be contracts or agreements with the city that he and other staffers aren’t aware of.

For more information on that story, click here and here.

— After 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.

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 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.”

For more information about that story, click here.

— Hudson alleges Qawiy kept a secret personnel file on her, full of write-ups she didn’t know about and didn’t sign. Qawiy denies this. For more on that story, click here.

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