Thursday November 26th, 2015 4:23PM

Councilwoman seeks to fire Demorest city manager

By Rob Moore Reporter
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DEMOREST - After reading a list of issues she says have placed the City of Demorest in financial difficulty, Councilwoman Florence Wikle Tuesday night called for the firing of City Manager Juanita Crumley.

A long-time employee of the city, Crumley also serves as city clerk and city treasurer.

At the conclusion of her lengthy statement, Wikle told Mayor Malcolm Hunnicutt, "Mr. Mayor, I have made a motion and I now request you to ask for a second."

But Wikle's motion failed when Councilman Jerry Harkness, the only other councilmember present, didn't offer a second.

Councilman John Popham was absent due to a death in his family, while Councilman Donnie Bennett had a school function that required his attendance.

Asked by Hunnicutt for a second, Harkness said, "I don't think that would be the right thing to do. It wouldn't be fair with two councilmen missing tonight to carry this motion. I feel that maybe we should table this until further discussion when our other councilmembers can be here to discuss this."

Though no vote was taken, Hunnicutt said he was tabling the issue to a future meeting.

Issues raised by Wikle included:

* "Failure to enter into written contracts regarding financial partnerships and joint ventures," she said. "Specifically, the pedestrian bridge and the relationship with Piedmont College. Because there was no written contract outlining Piedmont College's financial responsibility, the City of Demorest was forced to pay a portion of the costs and the traffic light. It cost the city thousands of taxpayer dollars, along with attorney fees."

* "The same lack of a written contract regarding the building and installation of the sewer line servicing Fairview Elementary occurred," Wikle said. "Additionally, because of the city's failure to present a bill for payment to the board of education in a timely manner, the City of Demorest was forced to pay for the entirety of the costs, which included engineering costs, labor and material, plus attorney fees."

* "Failure to read, understand and execute written contracts to the detriment of the city, specifically the contract between the City of Demorest and the City of Baldwin joint water department," Wikle said. "We eventually lost the water plant and now pay approximately $80,000 per month to purchase water from Baldwin. This again involved lots of money for attorney fees."

* "Failure to institute appropriate accounting mechanisms as repeatedly requested by city auditors since 2001," she said. "Because of the failure to follow general accounting standards, it has been alleged the city now has over $200,000 unaccounted for."

* "The firing of an employee [now-former Police Lt. Johnny Griffin] with an active lawsuit against the city," Wikle said.

Wikle read the job description laid out in the city charter for the city manager, noting council members may combine the position of city clerk, city treasurer and city manager.

"Mrs. Crumley holds all of these positions and is the sole person responsible for the day-to-day operations of our government," Wikle asserted.

"For this reason, I make the motion that we terminate Juanita Crumley as city manager effective immediately for the following reasons: failure to follow the chain of command, failure to report the disappearance of city monies in a timely manner, failure to protect the city's assets, and failure to fulfill the duties of her office," Wikle said.

After saying he tabled the motion, Hunnicutt questioned Wikle about her allegation about the price of the pedestrian bridge.

That discussion quickly deteriorated to a near shouting match between Hunnicutt and Wikle.

"We agreed on $250,000," Hunnicutt said. "$1.3 million is what the bridge supposedly cost."

"What you told us in workshop is that - " Wikle said before being interrupted by Hunnicutt.

"Flo, I'm telling you - no, I'm telling you we agreed right off of the bat!" Hunnicutt said.

"Well that's not what you told us in the workshop," Wikle said.

"No, well, you are wrong!" Hunnicutt said. "You misunderstood me, because I know what was done and what we agreed on."

The verbal exchange continued, with Hunnicutt becoming increasingly agitated.

Ultimately, the council handled three matters of old business then Hunnicutt called for adjournment without hearing the six department head reports included on the agenda.

Also omitted from the meeting was consideration to enter closed session, which was included on the agenda approved for the meeting.

Following the meeting, Hunnicutt said the department heads didn't have anything to report. He declined to comment on the events of the meeting.

Harkness did give a brief explanation of his reason for wanting to delay a vote on the matter.

"I feel like there are four people on the council, and I feel like those people need a voice as well," Harkness said. "We will talk about this in November."

Also during Tuesday night's meeting, the council voted to move the Nov. 5 council meeting to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, so it doesn't conflict with the municipal election.
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