STOCKBRIDGE — The Stockbridge City Council has now set a public hearing to consider the actions of the city’s embattled mayor.
City leaders voted 4 -1 Thursday evening to hold a hearing to review accusations against Mayor Lee Stuart who has been embroiled in controversy throughout most of his administration. He has been the target of an ethics probe and independent investigation during the past few months.
Councilman Alphonso Thomas, who has supported Stuart in the past, was the lone dissenting voice.
The council passed a resolution establishing procedures for the hearing to consider the results of the investigation and agreed to convene Dec. 10 beginning at 9 a.m., at City Hall.
The Stockbridge Citizens Ethics Board had met Oct. 3 for a hearing on accusations against Stuart, which are part of a six-page document filed by former councilwoman Kathy Gilbert. However, before deliberations resumed, Gilbert withdrew her complaint.
Chris Balch was named to oversee the ethics probe and stayed on as an independent investigator after Gilbert’s complaint was withdrawn. Balch presented his findings Monday morning in a Power Point presentation to the city council. His findings narrowed down more than 20 allegations against Stuart to seven and recommended his removal from office.
Balch alleged Stuart created a hostile work environment for employees and that he disclosed private information about a public officer in the city.
“It is clear that a censure of the mayor has not worked,” said Balch Monday, referring to an action the council took against Stuart in July.
As part of the investigation, Balch said he spoke with 17 witnesses, reviewed videotapes and more than 2,000 pages of documents as part of his investigation. He said Stuart’s actions led to violations of the state’s Open Records Act, the city charter and at least one case of identity theft.
Balch said Stuart attempted to monitor specific employees’ e-mail accounts without authorization and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The investigator said the employees had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” against such actions.
In response to the investigation, Stuart filed a lawsuit Nov. 15 in Henry County Superior Court and asked for a temporary restraining order to halt Balch’s probe against him. His suit claims the council has violated his rights according to the city charter. Stuart is claiming he has been previously “forced” to bring two lawsuits against the city and had to defend himself against another lawsuit brought by city officials.
Balch alleged Stuart also caused the city to spend $60,000 unnecessarily.
Balch said he believes Stuart released confidential information to the media about Stockbridge Municipal Court in violation of the charter and state law. He added that at least one person has been a victim of identity fraud because of the mayor’s actions. Stockbridge treasurer David Milliron told the Henry Daily Herald he is that person.
A police incident report was filed following the meeting when a mild altercation occurred between a city councilman and an attendee who approached the councilman in protest of the city’s action.
The hearing set for Dec. 10 is open to the public.