Clarkston doesn’t have a city manager right nowClarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Clarkston, GA — It’s Wednesday morning. Do you know who Clarkston’s city manager is?
Two days after the council parted ways with city manager Shawanna Qawiy, no one is running things at Clarkston city hall, two city councilmembers say.
“The council is working on naming an interim,” Councilmember Laura Hopkins says. “I think technically we have 10 days to name an interim. We’re working with the Georgia Municipal Association.”
Hopkins noted many city leaders are expected to be at a community meeting Wednesday evening to discuss how the city plans to spend Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money. That meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 9, at the Clarkston Community Center, located at 3701 College Avenue.
Under Clarkston’s code, Qawiy was supposed to designate an acting city manager who could fulfill her duties if she wasn’t there. Hopkins said the city doesn’t know if Qawiy designated anyone as acting city manager. Currently, each department head is managing their own department, she said.
Mayor Beverly Burks confirmed that Qawiy didn’t designate anyone.
“Upon review of the city clerk, there was a provision in the charter that the city manager was to designate someone,” Burks said. “That person was not designated.”
Burks said the council will hold a special meeting and designate Finance Director Dan Defnall as acting city manager, then look for an interim city manager followed by a search for a permanent city manager.
Hopkins said being without a city manager won’t become a problem until the city has to start writing checks that need to be signed.
Councilmember Jamie Carroll said the council could have appointed Defnall as acting city manager on Monday when the council parted ways with Qawiy. But he said certain members of the council blame him for Qawiy’s departure.
“The problem is some people on the council were upset at Defnall for his perceived role … and that’s why he wouldn’t be appointed city manager,” Carroll said.
Defnall sounded the alarm about things that were happening within the city government before the council approved a separation agreement with Qawiy. He recently threatened legal action against the city following a confrontation with 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.
Another question remains: Does John Pearson actually still work for the city or has he ever legally worked for the city?
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.
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. Those items had been issued before he was sworn in.
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 was out of town on Aug. 9 and doesn’t know if Pearson is still working for the city. Carroll and Hopkins didn’t know either.
“I haven’t heard he’s been terminated,” Carroll said.
“We have someone reaching out to him to find out what he understands about his situation,” Hopkins said.
Following the publication of this story, Burks confirmed that Aug. 9 will be Pearson’s last day on the job.
“My understanding is that John Pearson is not receiving any money in terms of his [participation] and anything he is doing is supposed to end today,” Burks said.
The council will have other tasks ahead of it, like dealing with contracts that may have been awarded without council approval under Qawiy’s watch.
City Attorney Stephen Quinn has provided the city council with a lengthy analysis of the city manager’s purchasing authority and the city council’s responsibilities. Hopkins forwarded that analysis to Decaturish.
“According to City Charter Section 2.03, the mayor shall sign contracts when they are approved by the city council. I do not believe that there is any provision in our charter or code for the city manager to sign contracts,” Quinn said. “That said, I would not be surprised to learn that city managers have signed contracts in the past. To me, the more important thing is that the council approves the contract in a public meeting, rather than who signs it after that. (Of course, the best practice would be to follow the charter and have the mayor sign). To be clear, not every single expenditure is a ‘contract’ that would require council approval. For example, purchases of goods in regular use at city hall (i.e., office supplies, uniforms, etc.) are not required to be specifically approved by the council so long as they are budgeted.”
Quinn also explained exceptions to the city’s bid rules.
“City code section 2-5 requires all contracts with a value over $5,000 to be awarded pursuant to a competitive process,” Quinn said. “There are certain exceptions to this such as use of a state contract, emergency situations, very specific goods or services that can be considered ‘sole source’ and contracts for professional services (‘professional’ here meaning attorneys, architects, engineers and similar positions licensed by the state).”
All contracts must be signed by the city attorney, Quinn noted.
“According to City Charter Section 3.03, the City Attorney ‘shall approve as to form and legality all contracts, deeds, ordinances, and resolutions having the force of law,’” Quinn said. “There is no exception to this requirement.”
Quinn added, any contracts that don’t follow the city policies he described would be null and void.
“To the extent that a contract is signed by a city official without going through the process set forth above, this would be an ultra vires act (meaning beyond that official’s authority),” Quinn said. “In such a situation, the city would not be bound to the contract. If the council became aware of such a situation, it would be appropriate to either ratify the contract by going through the process above or to disavow the contract by vote of the city council.”
Hopkins believes there are at least four contracts that would be considered void, according to Quinn’s analysis: a contract for the city’s new director of police services, a contract for a human resources consultant, a contract for a public relations firm, and a contract for security cameras. During a July 25 meeting, only Hopkins moved to amend the agenda to add a discussion of the four outstanding city contracts that did not go through proper channels, including the one with Pearson. The motion failed, lacking a second.
Hopkins said on Wednesday, Aug. 9, that it’s her understanding that those contracts will now have to be voided or put out for bid.
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