Former Stockbridge City Administrator Ray Gibson
Government leaders in Stockbridge are looking for a new city administrator. The Stockbridge City Council has scheduled a special called meeting for Thursday, at 3 p.m., to discuss who will follow the man who previously held the position, Ray Gibson.
Gibson left the post at the end of last week, according to City Clerk, Nicol Vasquez. “I’ve been told he is gone,” said Vasquez, “that information, I believe, may be given on Thursday.”
Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart confirmed Gibson’s departure, late Tuesday.
A Henry County Superior Court judge has agreed with Stuart that council members acted illegally, when they extended Gibson’s contract in March.
Joe Cloud, an attorney at the Hecht Walker law firm which represents Stuart, emphasized the mayor did not fire Gibson, but the ruling by Superior Court Judge Wade Crumbley deemed the City Council’s extension of Gibson’s contract was not executed legally.
“[Gibson’s] term of office ended, by contract on March 30,” said Cloud. “The judge ruled that his contract wasn’t extended properly, and that his term in the office ended on March 30.”
Stuart said the purpose of the called meeting is for the city council to consider two nominees he suggested for the position in the spring, Dr. Bruce S. Sutton, of Provo, Utah, and Cheryl Harrison-Lee, of Eatonville, Fla.
“The judge has made a ruling, and we’ve got to comply,” said Stuart.
Sutton is a certified fraud examiner and a certified business manager, as well as a former city manager in Utah. In 2011, Sutton initiated a forensic audit of the Stockbridge government. At that time, he claimed there were financial irregularities in the municipality. Those claims were later deemed to be without merit.
Harrison-Lee is a former assistant city manager for Daytona Beach, Fla., and Titusville, Fla. She also is a former chief of growth management for Orlando, Fla., and has worked as a city administrator in Eatonville, Fla.
The mayor attempted, in March, to nominate Sutton and Harrison-Lee for the city administrator job, but councilmembers rejected Stuart’s efforts because Gibson held the administrator post at the time.
“They said there was no vacancy, but the judge said there is,” said Stuart, on Tuesday. “I would hope they would give professional consideration to [the nominees].”
In March, the Stockbridge City Council voted to extend Gibson’s contract through Dec. 31, 2013. At that time, Stuart said the council failed to follow the Stockbridge charter requirements. Those requirements, said Stuart, include a college degree from an accredited college or university, supplemented by at least 10 years of administrative and managerial experience in local government, or any equivalent combination of education, training, and experience which provides the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job, according to the city’s charter.
Gibson, 40, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, had been City Administrator since May 2, 2011. He worked in the Henry County Planning & Zoning Department, from July 2002 to December of 2009, serving as the Director of Planning & Zoning for four of those years.
Stockbridge City Councilman Richard Steinberg said Crumbley’s decision has rendered the extension of Gibson’s contract “null and void.” Steinberg noted Crumbley has denied a request for an appeal in the case because a final ruling in the case is not expected until next month.
“We were enjoined from taking any action regarding Mr. Gibson until the final ruling is issued,” said Steinberg. “In the absence of a final ruling, we are precluded from doing anything.
“I’m disappointed,” Steinberg continued. “The majority of the members of the council are disappointed. We don’t believe the judge looked at, or considered, all of the evidence that was required to make a proper decision. We clearly respect Judge Crumbley, and will honor his decision. We are moving forward in the process to hire another city administrator.”
Cloud added that Crumbley, in May, added Gibson as a party to a lawsuit filed by the mayor against the City Council.
“The judge wanted him added as a party, because his employment was at issue,” said Cloud. “The city attorney agreed.”
Cloud said Crumbley ruled in favor of the mayor when he issued an interlocutory injunction. “It’s a temporary injunction until we can have a final hearing,” said Cloud. A review of the nominees offered by Stuart is consistent with the judge’s ruling, he added.
City Attorney Jack Hancock did not comment on the judge’s ruling Thursday and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Also, Gibson’s attorney, Patrick Jaugstetter, could not be reached for comment.