By Kathy Jefcoats
FOREST PARK — Retiring Public Works Director Mike Gippert announced he will make a run for the Forest Park mayor’s seat in November, and city council members appointed police Chief Dwayne Hobbs as interim city manager Monday night.
Hobbs will serve in the position with a 5 percent pay increase until City Council makes a permanent appointment. John Parker, 75, retired Friday as city manager after serving seven years. However, Parker served in that position twice before, giving him a cumulative 19 years.
During Parker's retirement reception, Hobbs called him a "good man."
"I just wish him all the luck, he sure deserves it," said Hobbs Friday. "He has a great family, lots of friends. Look at this room filled with employees who took time to come by here. This is a fitting tribute for not just a good city manager but a good man. He's not defined by his title."
Gippert announced his candidacy for mayor Monday, the first resident to throw his hat into the ring for the November election. Mayor David Lockhart took office in April during a special election to replace retired Corine Deyton. He has not made an announcement on re-election.
Gippert turned in his notice of retirement in May, after City Council fired the law firm that had represented Forest Park since 2006 and rumors circulated that he and Parker were next on the chopping block. He agreed to stay until the city hired a replacement, however, Monday was his last day.
Gippert addressed a group after City Council that night, expressing disappointment in the turn Forest Park has taken since Lockhart took office.
"As a fellow citizen, I see us heading in a direction of destruction from the inside out," he said. "I, for one, refuse to see this great city go down in flames and my fellow citizens should feel the same way."
Gippert, who spent 23 years with the city and has lived in Forest Park for more than 40 years, said he's seen how the economy has impacted the area.
"I have been here through the ups and downs of development, home prices increasing and home prices decreasing," he said. "I've seen the closing of Fort Gillem and hopefully, the soon to be rebirth of Fort Gillem, and the opportunities for redevelopment that we have been working on so diligently and putting together over the last several years."
If Lockhart also runs, the campaign could prove interesting. Lockhart is suing Gippert in a libel action involving a two-page anonymous missive targeting him. Lockhart first named two residents as defendants but added Gippert after he gave a newspaper interview supporting the defendants and acknowledging that he gave them a copy of the document as it was left on his front porch.
Gippert said the defendants, Joy Church and Lenora Dove, didn't write the document, which alleges Lockhart used a racial slur during National Day of Prayer breakfast at the National Archives in Morrow. Gippert also denied writing the missive.
Gippert said he is running for mayor to "stop the bleeding" he sees oozing in the city since Lockhart took office and to give residents a choice of leadership.
"At least in November they will have an opportunity to say they care about the direction we are heading and at what sacrifices that direction has caused," he said. "To help lead the charge and to stop the bleeding that we are suffering now and will surely see over the next few months, I would like to let those who feel as I do and care about the future of city of Forest Park know that I will be running for mayor in November."
Council also debated replacing Elections Superintendent Darnell Moorer but tabled the motion.
Qualifying for the municipal election, which also includes seats in wards 1 and 2, begins Aug. 26 and ends Aug. 30. The last day to register and be eligible to vote in the Nov. 5 election is Oct. 7.