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New developments in three city of Snellville 'follies'

Kelly Kautz

Kelly Kautz

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Phyllis Richardson

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Tom Witts

Friday follies, indeed.

New developments surfaced Friday in three of the plentiful ongoing controversies surrounding Snellville, its city council and its mayor, again embodying what’s become Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts’ favorite alliterative phrase. Each has different implications — and none of them point to any sort of end to the shenanigans.

— Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Warren Davis denied Friday Mayor Kelly Kautz’s motion to disqualify city attorney Tony Powell from representing the city council, city manager Butch Sanders and city clerk Melisa Arnold in her suit against them. The suit, filed in February, involves Kautz’s powers to appoint and terminate people for the latter two positions.

In his decision Friday, Davis ruled Powell will be permitted to serve as an attorney in the case — but cautioned all involved to consider the possible ramifications of that decision. In a counterclaim, the defendants have asked for Kautz to pay their attorney fees, which means that they would have to argue the suit is frivolous or brought in bad faith.

“In short, it is not up to the Plaintiff (Kautz) whether Mr. Powell represents the Defendants or not,” he wrote. “However, if the Defendants desire to continue with Mr. Powell as their attorney, they cannot use him or his law firm as witnesses or as a source of evidence to repel the claim of attorney fees, which is likely to entail substantial claims.”

In an emailed statement Saturday, Kautz said she was “happy with” the order.

Witts, who has become a sort of spokesperson for the council, called it "the first of several favorable decisions that we will need to get through in order to put all of these issues to bed."

— The Georgia Court of Appeals denied Friday Kautz’s motion of reconsideration in a March 19 split-decision that found she did not have the power to fire Powell.

Kautz, who has attempted to terminate Powell multiple times, has contended that because the city’s charter grants her the authority to appoint a city attorney, it also affords her the sole ability to fire one. By a close 4-3 vote, the appeals court disagreed, saying Snellville’s charter gives the city council any governmental powers not expressly granted.

The mayor said Friday’s second denial was just another step in the process.

“This was a legal formality that my lawyers felt was necessary before seeking cert from the Georgia Supreme Court and a motion that I wholeheartedly expected would be denied,” Kautz wrote. “Next week we will formally file our intention to seek cert from the Georgia Supreme Court.”

Witts responded to the ruling with a barb.

"We appreciate the fact the appellate court felt strong enough about its original decision that they did not feel compelled to revisit it," he wrote in his own email. "Now, Kelly’s only recourse on this front is to require the City to spend more of the Taxpayers money to defend this same case in the supreme court."

— An attorney representing a would-be city clerk in Snellville also Friday filed a notice that the city could be sued for $1 million because his client has been barred from doing her job.

Harry Daniels, who is representing Phyllis Moreland-Richardson, filed an ante litem notice on behalf of Richardson in a personal property claim against the council, Sanders and Arnold.

In January, Kautz, who was not named in the notice, surprised council members with the hiring of a new city clerk, Richardson. She said the mayor has sole authority on that position. But council members disagreed and Arnold — who has served as clerk for several years in addition to her role as a city purchasing agent — continued to work.

Daniels said Richardson has continued to show up for her job daily, but has been denied her position “over and over again.”

“Looking at this, there’s nothing there that supports the council’s position,” Daniels said. “I’ve looked at charter, looked at the complaint. She was sworn in, and it was done properly, there was nothing done out of order. The mayor gave notice to one of the council members, and when Ms. Richardson came to take her position, she was denied. There’s nothing else for her to do, that’s why she took legal action.”

Daniels declined to say when he was hired to represent Richardson, and cited attorney-client privilege.

Witts said Friday that action was not a surprise.

“This is our mayor doing the same thing again, another Friday folly,” Witts said. “Nothing we can do about it, just turn it over to our attorneys and let them fight it.”

Kautz, however, said she wasn’t aware of the filing until seeing it on social media.

“Unfortunately, City officials did not include the Mayor when they notified others that this Ante Litem Notice had been received by the City,” Kautz wrote in her emailed statement.