THOMASVILLE — The Meigs City Council reacted less than enthusiastically when told that Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo would be meeting with it next week.
Colangelo told the Times-Enterprise on Friday that she will be meet with the council Dec. 15 at 5 p.m.
So will she be investigating us?” Council Member Stephanie Battle asked during Thursday’s council meeting.
“No, she will instruct on open meetings, open records, keeping the city commission in line,” Meigs City Attorney Tom Lehman said. “Instruction would be good.”
Battle nodded her head, “Free training.”
Mayor Linda Harris was far from overjoyed .
Even Lehman was a little leery. When responding to a comment about how it would be good for Colangelo to see Meigs for herself, he responded, “I just hope she doesn’t see too much.”
The city council recently came under the notice of the attorney general’s office after multiple possible violations of the Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act during November. These include a couple of “phone votes,” an improperly called closed session during a council meeting, meetings without agendas, improperly called meetings in which the public was banned and two possible violations of the Open Records Act.
Colangelo said of her visit, “I want to hold out the carrot as long as I can without getting out the stick.”
“It is my impression the council is failing to manage themselves as a city,” she said. “They seem to just be falling apart.”
Colangelo said she spoke briefly with Tom Lehman early this month, saying he seemed to welcome the idea of a training session.
“I want to go down there and talk with them,” she said. “They need to know the eye of the attorney general is on all these things (that the council is doing.)”
“They (the city council) need to get there entire act together,” she said.
Colangelo sent a letter to Lehman requesting explanations of the possible Open Meetings violations on Dec. 1 and a letter about the possible Open Records Act the week before. Colangelo concluded the Open Meetings letter by explaining to Lehman that she is not aware of all the “circumstances surrounding these allegations, and I am not assuming the City violated the law. However, I would ask that the City to provide a response to the allegations in the next 10 days...”
Meigs has struggled for the last couple of years. It has been the subject of over $200,000 in lawsuits, mostly citing claims of Harris creating a hostile work environment. This fall, its city manager and city clerk resigned, also citing a hostile work environment.
The lawsuits caused Meigs to lose its insurance on Nov. 15. To date, questions still exist over what the new insurance does or does not cover. There is an outstanding open records request for a copy of the new insurance policy from the Times-Enterprise. Fifteen business days have passed since the legal deadline to turn over the policy.
Since the resignation of the city manager and city clerk, there has been chaos at City Hall as the council has struggled to pay bills, collect money due and function in general.
The mayor and several council members also have a concerted effort to get rid of the Meigs Police Department. Battle was arrested for disorderly conduct by Meigs Police Chief Gary Price in January. Then Harris was arrested in October for allegedly stealing $80. She was charged with interference of government property and violation of oath of office. She told a Thomas County Sheriff’s Office investigator that she wanted to close the police department and fire its chief because, “The chief of police is telling the truth about what’s going on in Meigs and making me and (other council members) look bad.”
The Department of Labor was also called in when city employees went unpaid at the beginning of the month.
On Dec. 1, the mayor caused the Municipal Court in Meigs to be dismissed by blocking the clerk of the court from performing her duties. Two relatives of Harris were due to appear before the court that day.
The mayor is also the subject of a petition for a recall election. About 145 signatures were turned into the Thomas County Board of Elections on Thursday.