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Adrian City Council dismisses city clerk

Including its workshop that began at 5:30 p.m., Adrian City Council had a 3-hour meeting Monday night that ended with a close vote to relieve clerk Stephanie Jean of her duties. The group of leaders also voted to readopt the city’s budget.

The business session of the meeting held two days ago began with the prayer from councilperson Jesse Yawn and the adoption of agenda by way of unanimous vote. Thereafter, the meeting picked up and never slowed down; the highlight of most of the meeting revolved mostly around Jean’s leave of absence.

Public participation from Nick Alfonso kickstarted that discussion. He stood before council and urged them to do what was right for the city and its taxpayers.

Jean was placed on administrative leave with pay in early November 2020 due to an investigation involving the GBI. She remained on leave with pay until Monday night’s vote, which will see her employment and that agreement terminated effective Wednesday, February 10. The Chronicle asked GBI Agent Kendall Reese for information but received no response. Further, The Chronicle asked Mayor Wynola Smith after the January meeting the reason for Jean’s leave of absence, but the mayor declined to comment in detail due to the investigation, citing “misappropriating funds.” In response to an opportunity to comment around that same timeframe, Jean, on the other hand, referenced a troublesome relationship between herself and Smith since the beginning of the mayor’s administration. No information has been provided to council as of late about the investigation’s findings. Consequently, The Crossroads Chronicle has nothing of substance to report on the matter—other than mentions of the GBI’s involvement in Adrian and a situation involving the City of Adrian and the IRS.

Alfonso took the floor and asked council to report on Jean’s ability to do her job, asking each member of council to give their own individual assessment of the clerk’s aptness. He further asked council to refrain from focusing their comments on Jean’s alleged criminal activity. He also inquired about the city’s employment contract with the clerk, or lack thereof, and the city’s at-will employment policy.

Councilperson Ed Brown answered Alfonso first. He said the city clerk “suited him just fine.”

Councilperson Jesse Yawn responded to Alfonso by saying he was proud of the clerical work Jean did for the city, but he expressed concerns about dismissing her before the investigation was complete, saying to do so would “get the city in trouble.”

Councilperson Michelle Love’s reply to Alfonso outlined that she had “done her homework” by talking to state lawyers and the city’s accountant. Letting Jean go at this point, to the best of Love’s understanding, would potentially open the city up for a suit because the city “went wrong” putting Jean on administrative leave with pay. She stated that although she considers Jean a friend, she recognized her duty to the city and its taxpayers as well. She closed by saying she understood that the GBI’s findings could have been turned over to the district attorney’s office already as of Monday.

Councilperson Suzanne Hutchinson answered Alfonso next. In her response, she stated she had proof from the IRS where the city’s taxes had not been paid. Hutchinson also commented that she did not feel Jean had been doing her job since she was hired in 2018. This councilperson gave an overview of how much Jean was currently being paid, at the expense of taxpayers, and announced that she would later make a motion to dismiss Jean.

Councilperson Julie Griffin, a newcomer to council, joining only in January, replied to Alfonso that she had been trying her best to catch up on the happenings involving Jean. She said she, too, was for the best interest of the City of Adrian and its citizens.

Mayor Smith did not comment. Alfonso thanked the group for their time and passed the floor to Judy Garman, who went before council and asked for more communication between council itself as well as between council and citizens.

A few items of business followed public participation, including the reading and adoption of the minutes from the January meeting, a public hearing, and a special called meeting. These were adopted under one motion, which carried by unanimous vote.

Council also heard an update about reconciliations, the status of the city sweeper undergoing repairs, and approved by a 4-1 vote (Brown opposing) the purchase of a $5,000 mosquito sprayer to be funded by SPLOST from the water account. The group then entered executive session, which lasted more than an hour.

Following the return to open session, Hutchinson acted on the discussion that took place in closed session, motioning to terminate Jean effective Wednesday, February 10, due to elective duty and the at-will clause “for failure to do her job, for failure to report court findings, for failure to not turn in IRS work, etc., etc., etc.” Love seconded, and the vote was 3-2 with Yawn and Brown both opposing.

In a separate motion, council voted to move Felicia Owen from acting clerk to city clerk, effective Wednesday, with a substantial pay increase due to her added responsibilities and the educational requirements she must complete. The vote was 4-1 with Brown opposing.

In regard to the readopted budget, council revisited the agenda item on Monday night. The budget had previously been adopted by the group during its January meeting. During that convention, Smith told the group that although there was not a public hearing, at the advice of the city’s auditor, she understood the city to have met all requirements to complete the budget approval process. Smith had since come to learn a public hearing was required, which council held January 27. Bearing that in mind, council motioned to readopt the agenda. The vote was 4-1 with Brown opposing.

Minutes from the January 27 meeting reflect that Smith updated the group on payroll taxes and reports owed to the IRS. The city’s CPA reported that the City of Adrian owes $31,000, along with all the 941s for the past nine months. Smith reported this Monday night that those 941s have since been submitted to the IRS, whom she intends to work with to find out how much the city owes total, including penalties and late fees. The mayor also stated she would ask forgiveness from the IRS, work out a payment plan, and report back to council about the matter.

Other items discussed by council Monday night included an update on the progress being made on finding and implementing a retirement policy that works for the City of Adrian, given its small size; council training for Griffin; renovations to the community center; upgrading the city’s severe weather alarm at a later date; event plans for Easter, the spring fling, July 4, and Halloween; and renewing a contract with Suez, the company responsible for handling the city’s water tanks.

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