Peachtree City mayor is unfit for public office
I take no pleasure in writing this opinion column. Highlighting someone’s virtues and accomplishments is far more satisfying than throwing rocks at shortcomings, especially in someone I used to talk to now and then over coffee.
But I feel a duty to speak up since I wrote a column recommending Don Haddix to voters when he was running against Cyndi Plunkett for Peachtree City Mayor in 2009. I thought I knew him, but I drank the wrong Kool-Aid and I was not only wrong, I was spectacularly wrong.
Shortly after Haddix took office as mayor, stories emerged of conflict from his head games at City Hall, but I discounted that as personality clashes from political rivalry.
Week after week stories of childish antics were hard to swallow about lying in public statements to make another councilman look bad, refusing to budget past the current year, denying an obviously erroneous public statement even when read the transcript from a prior council meeting, and so on.
I wondered, surely he can’t be that Machiavellian and ... well, stupid, can he?
When some voters started to talk about a recall for Haddix, my comment was, “Recall for what? A politician telling lies about a political opponent? That’s the world’s second oldest profession!” I even told my buddy Mike King he should lighten up and give Haddix a break. Over time, one event after another slowly opened my eyes.
The most recent controversy is about Haddix’s maneuvers to have the city pay his roughly $10,000 bill for personal legal fees, for which the city did pay in April. There is a clamor from citizens who know about this to recover the money from Haddix.
Personally, I don’t think this is about the money. This episode puts on public display Haddix’s character deficit, which is of far more concern than $10,000.
Ask yourself what kind of leader sends an email to a city employee containing libelous remarks about former Mayor Harold Logsdon? That conduct is beneath any manager or elected official. It is also dumber than a box of rocks to put it in writing on city email, which is subject to become public.
When Haddix’s email did become public, Logsdon sued Haddix for defamation.
I would argue it is not the offending email that reveals so much about Haddix. I have said and done some very unwise things in my life that made me wish for a do-over, and I’ll bet you have, too.
The measure of someone is not whether he accidentally or intentionally crosses the “stupid line,” the measure of him is how he handles it, how he takes responsibility to make it right.
Imagine if Haddix had talked to Logsdon to personally apologize: “Harold, I blew it. I did something I should not have done, it was stupid, I apologize, and since my remarks became public I will make my apology just like this one public. Is that enough to put this behind us?”
I don’t know Logsdon that well, but I’d bet money he would have accepted such a genuine public apology.
But of course Haddix stood his ground, published an equivocating non-apology with enough spin to make readers dizzy, and the face-off escalated.
When Logsdon sued, he named Don Haddix the individual, not the mayor of Peachtree City, and made it known he intentionally did so because he didn’t want taxpayers to pay any penalty from Haddix’s misdeeds.
Underscoring the personal nature of the dispute, Haddix did not use the city attorney; he hired his own personal attorney.
I don’t know anything about the confidential settlement negotiated between Haddix and Logsdon, but I would guess that Haddix discovered he had no defense and agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to settle the matter. The city has not been involved.
So this matter that could have been resolved with an honorable apology went further than it needed to go. You would think that to settle the matter Haddix had to cough up a penalty amount plus his attorney fees, and maybe even Logsdon’s attorney fees as well.
But you would be wrong.
He didn’t pay for it; you did.
Peachtree City has an agreement with GIRMA, a risk management firm, on coverage of litigation matters. Without the knowledge of the City Council, Haddix submitted a claim to GIRMA for his legal bills of nearly $10,000. Haddix’s argument was that when he libeled Logsdon, he was acting in his capacity as mayor.
This is a good point to ask yourself what any public official should do in this circumstance. An honorable person would take responsibility for their own personal mess and pay the bills for the settlement they personally negotiated and the attorney they personally hired.
Further, even if that honorable person felt there was a good argument GIRMA should cover the matter, he would insist that the City Council not only be aware of his claim to GIRMA, but to also support his efforts so there would be no impropriety or self-dealing, whether in appearance or in fact.
But Haddix did not disclose anything to the City Council.
GIRMA denied his request to have them pay his legal bills, saying it was a personal matter.
Haddix appealed to GIRMA, the claim was denied again. Haddix appealed a second time and was denied again, all without the knowledge of the City Council.
I have to give Haddix points for being relentless when working for his own personal benefit at the expense of taxpayers. Rather than giving up and paying his own legal bills, Haddix enlisted the help of the city attorney, Ted Meeker, who sent Haddix’s fourth request to GIRMA with his cover letter, and this time GIRMA relented and agreed to cover the matter.
The City Council was not informed that GIRMA wrote a check to Haddix for roughly $10,000 in March.
In April, the City Council was not informed that Peachtree City reimbursed GIRMA the $10,000 per the contractual agreement due to a $25,000 deductible per legal matter. I don’t know enough details, but sounds like disbursement controls need to be tightened up.
As the May 17 City Council meeting approached, the City Council still had not been informed of Haddix’s maneuvers that resulted in taxpayers paying his legal bills.
On Friday May 11, City Council members received their packet for the next week’s May 17 meeting. The “disclosure” of the city paying Haddix’s legal bills was one line item buried in a long list of items on an attachment for legal matters.
Even without the “red flag” disclosure it deserved, City Council members discovered that Haddix had engineered the city paying his legal bills, resulting in heated discussion and challenge at the May 17 City Council meeting.
Haddix was repeatedly asked by all four of the other City Council members to repay the money but he refused, saying, “I’m entitled” to coverage. Haddix did agree to release the settlement agreement.
Ask yourself what kind of mayor works relentlessly for his own personal benefit at taxpayer expense without disclosure to his fellow City Council members?
The City Council is formally asking GIRMA to reconsider the claim, to reverse its coverage decision and require Haddix to disgorge the $10,000 because Haddix was sued as an individual, hired an attorney as an individual, negotiated a settlement as an individual and failed to inform the City Council of his communications with GIRMA.
If all that is not enough to make you nauseous, hold onto your gag reflex for this tidbit. When Haddix had not released the settlement agreement he promised to disclose, this paper reminded Haddix of the state law on three days to respond to a public record request.
Haddix responded by saying that very follow-up request started his three-day clock all over again, thereby busting the meter that applies the laugh test.
We all expect our friends and associates to conduct themselves honorably, with good judgment and integrity, and we expect them to deal with us straight-up, open and honest. From our public officials, we expect an even higher standard since they hold a public trust to act on our behalf.
I have come to the realization slowly and reluctantly that Haddix has none of the virtues we expect from public officials.
Everything he does in the remainder of his term will need an extra measure of scrutiny because neither we taxpayers nor his fellow City Council members can trust him.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]