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City clerk resigns during Snellville trial

City Clerk Melisa Arnold watches court proceedings in the Snellville mayor vs. council trial Thursday, as officials announce she resigned her position effective later this month. Also photographed is attorney Jack Wilson.

City Clerk Melisa Arnold watches court proceedings in the Snellville mayor vs. council trial Thursday, as officials announce she resigned her position effective later this month. Also photographed is attorney Jack Wilson.

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In this file photo, Snellville councilmembers listen to court proceedings Tuesday in a dispute with the mayor involving the city clerk and city manager. The councilmembers, from left to right, are Bobby Howard, Tom Witts, Dave Emanuel, Barbara Bender and Diane Krause.

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In this file photo, Attorney Michael Clark hands a document to Judge Warren Davis while Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz testifies Wednesday in the second day of a trial between Kautz and the members of the City Council.

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In this file photo, Snellville City Manager Butch Sanders, right, confers with attorney Kevin Tallant Wednesday in the second day of a trial between Kautz and the members of the city council. Allegations have surfaced in the trial that Sanders lied on his resume in the past and during his deposition this week.

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In this file photo, Snellville City Attorney Tony Powell cross examines Mayor Kelly Kautz Wednesday in the second day of a trial between Kautz and the members of the city council.

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In this file photo, Snellville Councilmembers Barbara Bender and Tom Witts, who are defendants in a suit filed by Mayor Kelly Kautz, watch court proceedings Wednesday in the second day of the trial.

Snellville City Clerk Melisa Arnold — one of two city officials involved in a dispute between the mayor and council — resigned Thursday during the third day of the trial.

After debating a settlement for most of the morning, officials returned to court Thursday afternoon to announce they had not reached a deal and that Arnold was stepping down from her post, which she has held for five years.

Arnold sought to be removed from the suit, as she was named a defendant, along with all five council members and City Manager Butch Sanders. But attorneys for Mayor Kelly Kautz said Arnold remained under subpoena and her testimony would be needed on issues, including whether council members held a behind-closed-doors meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“This is complicating how the case is handled and where we are,” City Attorney Tony Powell said.

Arnold declined to talk about the resignation and left the courtroom for the afternoon’s proceedings.

Kautz, who had taken to the stand to continue her testimony, began to cry at the news, as attorneys said she had intended for Arnold to remain a city employee in another capacity when Kautz attempted to appoint a new city clerk at the beginning of the year. Arnold has been a city employee for 24 years.

In a statement released later in the day, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts and other council members said: “This is truly a dark day for the city of Snellville. … Melisa has served our city with honor, integrity, hard work and a passionate commitment to serving our city.

“The abuse and humiliation that Mayor Kautz has directed at Ms. Arnold and the stress of the trial have frankly threatened Melisa’s health and well-being and forced her to step down,” the statement added. “Upon her resignation, Ms. Arnold asked to be removed from this case, but Mayor Kautz and her legal team will not allow it. The inhumanity of the mayor’s actions toward Ms. Arnold is simply unacceptable.”

Earlier in the day, defendants reconsidered a settlement offered Wednesday by Kautz.

“This is something I’ve been saying from the beginning, and I’ll be very satisfied if we can move forward,” Kautz said before the negotiations ended.

Kautz took the stand Wednesday to describe code sections and historical acts that she believes determined terms for Sanders and Arnold, as she contends that when Sanders contract ended, a new one required the nomination of the mayor. The cross examination continued Thursday, ending just before 8 p.m.

Nearing the end of Kautz’s testimony, Judge Warren Davis called out Councilman Dave Emanuel, swearing him in to ask if he was recording the proceedings on his cell phone without the court’s permission.

Davis said Emanuel was holding his phone as if he were recording and considered contempt charges. When Emanuel denied the accusation under oath, Davis said he took the councilman at his word. He warned the audience members and asked them to put away their phones.

The proceedings will resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday, and the judge said scheduling could cause the trial to resume later into the summer if progress isn’t made.

The judge said he would likely be prepared to rule from the bench on the allegations involving the use of Kautz’s signature without her permission, her access to City Hall and the open meeting violation claim. He said he would likely take time to consider the city clerk and city manager issues.

“You have a wrinkle in this,” he said of the city manager contract. “It’s not the mayor saying the term is over; it’s everybody saying the term is over. I think what changes the term is when you have the power of the city council to say this is it.”

On the clerk issue, he said the mayor should want a lifetime appointment with the council seeking to limit it.

“Be careful what you ask for; you might get it,” Davis said..