By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Outspoken Forest Park Public Works Director Mike Gippert has been added to a libel lawsuit filed against two women by Mayor David Lockhart based on statements he made to the Clayton News Daily last week.
Gippert said he is "proud" to be part of the suit filed last week in Clayton County State Court.
"I am quite proud to be a part of the Mayor's frivolous lawsuit filed against Joy and Lenor for merely leaving information sitting for anyone to read," stated Gippert in a release Tuesday. "They did not publish the information nor did I."
In fact, Gippert went on to state he is surprised that Lockhart is continuing the suit, given the chance of having witnesses to the alleged comments come forward and establish them as truth, which is a defense to a libel charge.
"I really expected that the Mayor would have given some thought to dropping the suit all together rather than suffering the embarrassment of us bringing in subpoenaed witnesses for the comments made at the Day of Prayer event, or even the public finding out his reason for demanding that I be fired," the statement reads.
Gippert tendered his retirement notice last month but left the end date open to give the city time to hire a replacement.
"Ethically, I cannot mention those reasons at this time since I am still an employee of the City at least until my actual retirement," Gippert stated. "According to the Mayor, we had a 'tight' relationship at this time."
Gippert said he anticipates answers to the suit to be filed by the end of the week.
In Saturday's article, Gippert told the Clayton News Daily that Lockhart's suit is "frivolous" and said he is the one who provided the anonymous two-page document to residents Joy Trammell Church and Lenora Dove. Gippert said the document had been left on his front porch at the end of May.
Lockhart contends in the amendment to the suit that the mere sharing of the information with the women, who have not been proven to be the authors, constitutes libel on Gippert's part. Lockhart drafted the amendment Friday.
"Accordingly, Mike Gippert's reported act of 'sharing' a copy of the defamatory statements with Defendants Church and Dove is publication within the meaning of (Georgia law)," stated the amendment filed Monday.
Lockhart denied the entire contents of the document, which was left outside City Hall prior to the June 3 City Council meeting. Surveillance cameras reportedly caught the two women walking up with the box of copies, placing it on a brick planter and taping a sign to the box reading "Take one." A resident called Lockhart's attention to the document during the meeting.
He appeared shocked and denounced the letter.
"Lies and cowardice," he said during the meeting. "You will not say you saw it and heard it because they were never spoken. To the author of this trash, you are a coward and a liar because none of it is true. This is nothing but trash."
In the suit, Lockhart specifically takes issue with a paragraph alleging he used a racial slur in a conversation with another elected official during the National Day of Prayer breakfast at the National Archives. The suit uses that paragraph as the basis for his libel complaint although the entire document is attached as an exhibit.
The document touches on several allegations including that Lockhart has met with representatives of Galardi Enterprises to discuss changing the city's ordinance to allow strip clubs to re-open, that Lockhart ordered City Manager John Parker to fire Gippert because Lockhart doesn't approve of recycling or the city's "going green" programs and that Lockhart used a racial slur during the Morrow event.
Lockhart has declined to comment on the suit, saying it speaks for itself. Gippert said he is disappointed.
"The citizens of Forest Park deserve better," he said.