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Clarkston City Council unanimously votes to part ways with city manager

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Clarkston City Council unanimously votes to part ways with city manager

City Manager Shawanna Qawiy listens to a resident speak during open comment at the Clarkston City Council work session on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Clarkston, GA — Months of drama and chaos at city hall resulted in the Clarkston City Council’s decision to unanimously part ways with City Manager Shawanna Qawiy.

The council unanimously approved a separation agreement at a special meeting on Aug. 7. The meeting was not live-streamed, but the Decaturish team was there and recorded a video of the vote:

According to a copy of the separation agreement obtained by Decaturish, Qawiy resigned. She was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 4, according to the agreement. Her effective resignation date is Sept. 29, 2023. However, she is not to report to city hall or supervise any employees. She’s required to create a “transition document” for the city and to answer any questions they might have. She will get a severance of $67,500. As part of the agreement, she agreed not to sue the city. She’s required to return city-owned property to the city by Aug. 11, except for her cell phone and laptop, which must be returned by Sept. 29.

To view the separation agreement, click here.

It’s not clear who the city manager will be while the council searches for Qawiy’s replacement. Mayor Beverly Burks told a Decaturish reporter that the city will make an announcement about an interim city manager tomorrow, Aug. 8.

Qawiy has been accused of creating a toxic work environment in the city.

Before Monday’s vote, Councilmember Laura Hopkins spilled tea on the council’s 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.

But there were no votes against the separation agreement approved on Monday.

The council met on Aug. 3 for an executive session but left without taking any action.

The last few weeks have been tense in Clarkston. Hood abruptly resigned following a July 27 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.

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 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.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Sara Amis and Dean Hesse contributed reporting to this story. 

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