PTC Council faces choice on Haddix pay lawsuit: Fight or fold
One of the most interesting decisions to be made by the Peachtree City Council Thursday night will likely occur in executive (closed) session as members ponder whether to restore the salary of Mayor Don Haddix or face a lawsuit that could cost more than the punitive pay cut enacted by council in May.
Haddix has threatened to sue his fellow council members if his pay is not restored, and because that counts as “pending or threatened” litigation, the council is entitled under the state’s Open Meetings law to discuss the matter in closed session.
At issue is a 4-1 decision by council to lower Haddix’s monthly pay from $750 a month to just under $75 a month. The action — spearheaded by Councilman Erik Imker — was made in a bid to recoup nearly $10,000 in legal fees that the city indirectly paid for due to a decision by the city’s risk management carrier.
Several council members felt the matter was mishandled by Haddix because he failed to notify them he was seeking to be reimbursed for the legal fees, which stemmed from a libel lawsuit filed against Haddix personally by former Mayor Harold Logsdon over language used in an email Haddix sent to a city employee.
The risk management company initially denied coverage, which left Haddix to pick his own attorney instead of being represented by an attorney chosen by council or the risk management company. The lawsuit was ultimately settled in December as Haddix paid $3,000 to Logsdon and also rendered an apology.
It was after the settlement that Haddix instructed City Attorney Ted Meeker to once more petition the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA) to cover the cost of the lawsuit. Ultimately, GIRMA reversed course and agreed to “cover” the cost, saying that it would have covered Haddix from the start of the lawsuit had it understood the language at issue in the lawsuit was contained in an email from the mayor to a city employee.
GIRMA’s decision resulted in the city having to pay for the costs indirectly because the total costs and settlement amounted to just under $10,000 which was below the city’s $25,000 deductible limit.
When the GIRMA payment came to light, several council members expressed outrage that such an expenditure could occur, and council voted 4-1 to approve what they termed “a budget adjustment” to dock Haddix’s pay to recoup the money for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
In the latest publicly-presented version of the budget, that pay cut was intact, but that was prior to Haddix’s attorney sending the city a notice that if the mayor’s pay isn’t fully restored, with back pay, he would file a lawsuit with the city.
In that notice, attorney Mike Bowers noted that the pay cut from Haddix’s fellow council members was tantamount to a “legislatively enacted punishment” constituting a bill of attainder. Bowers also claimed that the city charter requires mayor and council member salaries to be established by the mayor and council in a previous term, which gives the current council no authority to reduce Haddix’s salary.
“If the City Council does not authorize the payment of the salary currently owed and restoration of Mr. Haddix’s salary, the members of the city council will be acting oppressively, maliciously, corruptly, without authority of law, and in bad faith by knowingly violating the law and acting outside the scope of their discretionary authority,” Bowers wrote. “Such actions may subject each member to personal liability.”
Haddix’s pay is currently established by budget at $9,000 a year even though by ordinance the mayor is entitled to a salary of $18,000 a year. Because of tight budgets the past several years, the mayor and council have voted to keep their pay levels the same despite an ordinance passed several years ago that doubles the pay for both offices, as council members are currently paid $6,000 a year though they are eligible under that ordinance for pay up to $12,000 a year.