Stockbridge mayor, council settle their dispute

The ongoing feud between the City of Stockbridge's mayor, Lee Stuart, and city councilmembers, appears to have subsided –– for now.

Stuart would not elaborate on what was resolved behind closed doors in an executive session, on Thursday. But the mayor, and one councilmember maintain that the dispute — which was generated a lawsuit filed last year over the mayor's governing powers — is over.

Prior to Thursday's meeting, the mayor and the council had been embroiled in a lawsuit over Stuart's veto powers.

"The parties have resolved this matter, in a manner that lets the city and elected officials move forward with governing ...," Stuart said Friday.

"We were able to settle the litigation, and I am in high hopes we can start moving forward in serving the citizens," agreed councilman-at-large, Mark Alarcon. "I can't comment on intricacies of the settlement, or how it was settled," said Alarcon, who described the dispute between Stuart and the council as "explosive."

"There [are] going to be a lot of things going on, [and] I don't feel I am able to give you a true outline," the councilman said. "I want the citizens of this community to know what is going on. I am at the point that I want this put behind us. I just want to continue to serve the citizens of Stockbridge," he said. "We have been divided on certain issues. We've got to work together. A house divided can't stand.

"We need to be applying a healing salve, and let us work together as we were elected to do at the most optimum level," Alarcon continued.

While many in the city remained mum about the behind-closed-doors session between the mayor and council, one former employee said she sees herself as collateral damage, produced the feud.

Merle Manders, former Stockbridge city clerk, has told the Henry Daily Herald that actions taken Mayor Stuart led to her decision in April of 2010 to leave the job she held for more than three decades.

"You can make somebody's life so miserable, that you just throw in the towel," said Manders. "[Stuart] reportedly told people he was going to be the city manager, and the mayor."

Manders said that, before she quit her job as city clerk, Stuart made it difficult for her to perform her duties. "He was putting pressure on me, just like he did [former City Manager] Ted Strickland," said Manders. Strickland is now deceased.

Manders' comments came in response to the emergency, called meeting Thursday. However, efforts to get Mayor Stuart to respond to Manders' comments were unsuccessful.

Efforts to reach City Attorney Buddy Welch, and an attorney representing the mayor, Greg Hecht, to respond to Manders' allegations, were also unsuccessful, and Assistant City Manager Ray Gibson declined to comment.