Why the city of Brookhaven’s new mayor and city council is expected to fire the city manager today is a question no one seems willing to answer other than the contract negotiation between the two became “mired in conflict” and it appears a legal battle is looming.
City council members and newly-elected Mayor John Ernst remained mum on the issue after yesterday’s suspension of Marie Garrett, who was making $214,000 a year. The suspension first of the city manager and then firing the next day follows requirements of the city charter.
Ernst would only refer to his official statement when asked for further information about Tuesday’s suspension of Garrett during an apparent hastily called emergency special called meeting. His statement in full reads:
“The city honors its obligations. Unfortunately the contract negotiated by previous administrations is ambiguous and does not allow the city to know what its duties are,” Ernst said in his Tuesday statement about Garrett.
“While working toward an orderly transition we have become mired in conflict over the terms and conditions of that agreement. The responsible thing to do is to have a third party resolve these disputes. We wish Marie Garrett well,” he said.
Ernst also declined to comment Tuesday on what third party he was speaking of in his statement. When the city was asked if Garrett would receive a health severance package totaling nine month’s salary, city spokesperson Ann Marie Quill issued this statement: “There is a contract and the city will honor whatever its obligations are. However, there are disputes which we have turned over to our lawyers and cannot be more specific than the mayor’s statement yesterday.”
Garrett’s contract with the city states she will receive a payment in installments equal to nine months salary and a lump sum for unpaid personal leave. The city will also, for nine months, continue to contribute to Garrett’s retirement annuity and will also pay her health insurance, life insurance and short and long-term disability during this time.
Former mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said Wednesday she was “surprised” to hear of Garrett’s suspension, but also added it was “not a complete shock” because the position is a mayoral appointment.
“Marie has done a good job for the city. She is a really good manager for cities starting out,” Williams said. “The new mayor has a right to appoint a new city manager.”
Police Chief Gary Yandura was appointed by Ernst as interim city manager with council approval. Yandura makes $135,000 a year and whether or not his pay will increase while he serves as interim city manager has yet to be decided, according to Quill.
Garrett was paid $214,000 a year heading up the administration of the city of Brookhaven; Brookhaven’s approximate population in 2014 was 51,000. In contrast, Dunwoody, with a population of approximately 48,000, pays its city manager $171,000 a year, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
In Sandy Springs, the population is about 102,000 and the city manager is paid $215,000 annually in 2014, according to the GDCA. Garrett was touted as possibly the highest paid city manager in the state when she was hired full-time.
Garrett and the city manager’s job was slated to come up on the agenda during Tuesday’s regular council meeting as part of a series of mayoral renewal appointments. However, the city manager discussion was removed during Tuesday’s work session — which followed the emergency special called meeting.
The mayor and council renewed contracts with City Clerk Susan Hiott and Finance Director Carl Stephens. City Attorney Chris Balch’s contract was tweaked so that he would be paid a monthly retainer of $20,000 and for work outside the scope of the retainer he will be paid $165 an hour and also pay a paralegal fee of $90 an hour.
A meeting is set for 3:30 p.m. today to vote on firing Garrett.