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Clarkston Finance Director threatens to sue city; City councilmember rescinds resignation

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Clarkston Finance Director threatens to sue city; City councilmember rescinds resignation

During a Clarkston City Council work session on July 25, Finance Director Dan Defnall was charged by Mayor Beverly Burks to carry out a budget review. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Clarkston, GA — The drama in Clarkston continues to unfold as the council plans to meet this evening, Aug. 3, at 7 p.m.

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.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Susan Hood confirmed to Decaturish minutes before the Aug. 3 meeting that she has reconsidered her recent decision to resign and plans to attend the Aug. 3 meeting, meaning that the council likely has at least three votes in favor of taking action against the city manager.

Hood abruptly resigned during a July 27 town hall 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 Johnson favored doing nothing.

On Aug. 3, Hood said, “I’ve decided to stay on city council. Will have a statement for you after the meeting.”

Defnall emailed the council on Aug. 1 following a dust up with Qawiy.

Here is the full email:

Mayor and City Council,

I have received the attached emails over the last two days from the City Manager’s Administrative Assistant regarding Rental Assistance Applications. I had informed the city manager and administrative staff verbally two weeks that we had reached the limit on rental assistance and weatherization assistance allocated by the City council and that we needed to go back to the City council for additional allocations and no action has been taken to date by the Manager to put these items on our agendas for. The City Manager just came into my office today and asked where we were on rental assistance. The City Manager knows full well that I have been trying to focus my efforts on the 2023 amended budget data requested by the City Council. I stated to her that I told her verbally weeks ago that we had more applications than we had allocated funds available for and needed to go back to the city council for additional funding. She said where is the email. I told her we had verbally discussed it and she could pretend it didn’t happen, but it did! She accused me of insubordination. I responded that she could write me up or fire me if she pleased. Yesterday she came into my office asking me about why I shared information about contract concerns with the media, and I replied that I sent that information to city officials only. I also received the attached email from Councilwoman Debra Johnson yesterday titled Misappropriation of funds wanting me to give instructions on Food assistance purchases, when I city code forbids her involvement regarding purchasing activities. I do not feel it is my responsibility to address this matter directly with a council member, it should be addressed by the City Manager.

I am unequivocally stating that I consider these actions to be Harassment, Intimidation, and Retaliation and will not stand for it any longer. The last thing I want to do is bring a additional legal claim against this City, however, I may no longer have any recourse given the events that have occurred over the last few months as well as the City Council’s inaction in dealing with the current outstanding claims regarding the City Manager and the hostile work environment for all City employees. I can submit my resignation today and retire if that is desired, but I do not think that is what is best for the continued short term operational needs for the City or our other staff given the critical need of the functions I currently perform.

Thank you,

Dan Defnall, Finance Director

City of Clarkston

Here is the email from Johnson that Defnall referenced. He forwarded it to City Attorney Stephen Quinn:

Good afternoon Dan,

Thank you for the apology that you gave me on Wednesday. I’m clear on the assignment that you were asked to complete.

Apology excepted.

1. The invoice for the tee shirts has been satisfied by Clarkston First Baptist. The City can dispose of the invoice for those services.

2. I have three more Food Distribution ‘s and an event on August 5th, you will receive invoices for. Can you please let me know in writing the process of making these transactions payable by the City Clarkston?

Kindest regards,

Debra Johnson

That’s not the only recent dramatic revelation about Clarkston.

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.

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.

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.

The Decaturish team is at the Clarkston City Council meeting. Check Decaturish.com for more updates on this developing story.

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