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Clarkston council member un-resigns; council plans to increase budget for police salaries

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Clarkston council member un-resigns; council plans to increase budget for police salaries

Clarkston City Councilmember Susan Hood announces her resignation during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston Councilmember Susan Hood returned to the Clarkston city council after abruptly resigning last week.

“I want to apologize to the community and to my city council colleagues for the disruption I caused last week when I announced my resignation…I reflected on why I had run for council to begin with and that I was failing in performing my duty by not completing my term,” Hood said. “… I will remain a council member.”

City attorney Stephen Quinn said that both state law and the city charter address resignation of council members. State law says that a resignation isn’t final until accepted, and the charter says that the mayor must declare the seat vacant and that declaration must be confirmed by a majority vote of the council. Since neither of those happened, Hood is still legally a council member. 

In a bid to attract desperately needed police officers, the council agreed to amend the city’s budget to allocate $188,472 to police salaries, an amount that will allow the city to raise the starting pay of police officers to $60,000 and give current police officers commensurate raises.

Council members Jamie Carroll and YT Bell strongly favored that amount. Vice Mayor Debra Johnson and Councilmember Awet Eyasu suggested a lower amount of $130,000 which would allow starting pay to be raised from $52,000 to $55,000.

Hood said she preferred a compromise amount.

Carroll said that the Clarkston police force is in the middle of a staffing crisis. 

“As of Aug.13, we will be down to nine officers. Part of the problem, not the whole problem, is compensation,” Carroll said. ” … We’re losing officers to places like Brookhaven and Chamblee.”

He added that officers had asked the city manager for raises in 2021 and 2022, and again in March 2023. 

“The council didn’t find out until May, by which time some officers had already left,” Carroll said. “… At every step along the way, it’s been too little, too late.” 

Johnson said that she was afraid that the larger amount was not sustainable, despite a surplus in the city budget.

Finance Director Dan Defnall said that DeKalb County had closed out the property tax digest and that based on the new update, Clarkston’s commercial tax digest increased by $14 million, which would add $200,000 in revenue. 

Councilmember Laura Hopkins said that she would like to acknowledge that the council had given Defnall two months of work in the last week  and that he had worked hard to present them with multiple options. She added that she preferred the higher amount.

Hood said that without a compromise, she agreed to the higher amount.

The council agreed to meet on Monday to pass a resolution prepared by Quinn. Bell suggested that they could meet over the weekend once the required 24-hour notice was given.

“24 hours is 24 hours. This is a state of crisis,” Bell said.

Quinn said that he didn’t feel that a day or two would make a significant difference.

“The audience for this is current police officers and potential police officers.  I trust that they have heard the council’s commitment and anticipate follow through,” Quinn said.

The council held an executive session to discuss a personnel matter but announced no decision and took no vote. When asked whether they had decided about the future of City Manager Shawanna Qawiy, Mayor Beverly Burks said she could not comment.

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