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Public works head retiring

Mayor says rumors untrue

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

FOREST PARK — In the aftermath of Monday's firing of the city attorneys, rumors abound that other department heads are next.

However, Mayor David Lockhart said Friday those rumors are unfounded.

"Rumor, rumor, rumor — as far as I know," he said. "But the council members may have plans that I don't know about."

So the city manager, police chief and public works director aren't leaving?

"That's absolutely 100 percent accurate," said Lockhart. "As far as I know neither of those three things are on the horizon."

However, Public Works Director Mike Gippert filed papers with the city announcing his retirement days after council members voted to replace Mack and Harris Law Firm in favor of Fincher, Denmark and Williams. Gippert said Thursday night he filled out the paperwork to retire but left his last day open-ended.

"I let the city know I am willing to stay as long as it takes to replace me," he said.

Gippert spent 23 years with the city and has lived there 40 of his 62 years.

"I've poured my heart and soul into the city of Forest Park," said Gippert. "Everything I've done in the last 40 years has been for the citizens of Forest Park."

Gippert said he plans to return to his passion — remodeling homes and volunteering with the senior citizens.

Monday's vote to replace the city attorneys surprised the attorneys and others at the meeting. Residents grumbled during a recess about the swiftness of the action and lack of an explanation as to why it was taken.

The move to replace the city attorneys also surprised Lockhart, he said.

"I'd say so, that I was surprised," said Lockhart, who doesn't have a vote as mayor.

Former Mayor Pro Tem Sparkle Adams, whom Lockhart defeated for mayor, remains skeptical. She said the action smacked of back room dealings.

"If this is our mayor's definition of transparency, I am greatly concerned for the operations of our city government, the morale of our city employees, our residents, businesses and other stakeholders," said Adams. "Actions such as this require thoughtful deliberations, open discussions and a sustainable plan to minimize negative impact."

However, speculation that the change was done as a first step to overturn the city's ordinance to allow adult entertainment clubs to return to Forest Park would be misguided, Lockhart said.

"That law firm, Fincher, Denmark and I can't remember the third name, ran the strip clubs out of College Park," said Lockhart. "So if picking them was done to bring back the clubs, they made a poor decision. I believe those rumors are unfounded. If that's the plan, hiring that law firm is inconsistent with the plan."

Under the city's ordinance, the council has the power to hire and fire the attorneys and the city manager, he said. The city manager then has the power to hire and fire the police chief and the public works director.

Representatives of the Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon have unsuccessfully sued Forest Park several times in an effort to overturn ordinances that would allow them to operate in the city.

Lockhart said he thinks it is an issue that needs to be addressed, adding that he didn't attend the city's 2011 two-day long hearing into allegations of criminal activity inside the clubs.

"I think it needs to be discussed," he said. "There are competing sides. I think the issue should be vetted. I don't like to make an opinion when I have partial information."

Lockhart added that he wouldn't be frequenting the clubs if they re-open.

"I will never go to them if they come back unless they allow me to hand out gospel tracts," he said. "But I want to allow the citizens a full voice to express what they want. I'm not the king."

Clayton County Democratic Chairman Kevin Thomas also attended Monday's meeting where Lockhart was ceremoniously sworn in by Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Carla Wong McMillian.

Lockhart had already taken the oath of office days before and presented the sworn affidavit to the city manager. Thomas, who doesn't live in Forest Park, said he attended to champion the new mayor, which raised some eyebrows since the city elections are non-partisan.

"As chairman, I go to meetings every now and then," he said. "There are big changes over in Forest Park and I didn't want to miss the swearing-in. My being there had nothing to with anything partisan."

Thomas wasn’t a visible presence at the Jonesboro or Morrow city council meetings after those municipalities experienced a change in leadership last year.

Thomas also denied having a hand in the decision to replace the attorneys as a step toward re-opening the clubs.

"I didn't have anything on in reference to any actions," he said. "I don't know whether to be flattered or offended. Take the light away from me and shine the light on the new leadership.I would love to take all that credit but as far as being able to manipulate, I don't have that kind of clout."

Lockhart said he had a lot of support across party lines during his mayoral campaign but he has "zero" party affiliations.