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Judge set to hear motion Monday

Fired attorneys sue Forest Park

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

FOREST PARK — Lawyers are expected in Clayton County Superior Court Monday morning to argue their sides in a lawsuit filed by the city's previous attorneys.

City council members voted 3-1 May 6 to fire Mack and Harris Law Firm but gave no reason. Robert Mack and Joe Harris had represented the city since 2006 and were re-appointed in January.

The filing alleges that the attorneys were appointed officers and therefore afforded certain rights under the city charter. Under Section 5.16, appointed officers can only be removed under certain conditions including incompetence, misfeasance or malfeasance; conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; failure to possess qualifications of the office; knowingly violating the charter; abandonment of office or neglect to perform duties or failure for any other cause to perform the duties of office as required by charter or state law.

There was no reason given when Councilwoman Latresa Akins made the motion May 6 to amend the agenda to include action to reconsider the attorneys. However, after that vote and again during a recent meeting, Akins said she "felt like" the attorneys solely represented City Manager John Parker and that they withheld information from council members.

Council members were set to meet Wednesday in a special session to take another vote on firing the attorneys. However, the meeting was abruptly canceled Tuesday without reason.

Also in question is the validity of the vote itself. Under the city charter, a motion to terminate must get five votes to pass, a holdover from when the council had seven members. When the charter was amended to reflect a five-body council, the vote requirement was not changed. It was amended to allow for a four-vote passage the day after the 3-1 termination vote was taken.

Mayor Pro Tem Linda Lord cast the dissenting vote, even as she was asking council members for discussion on the matter. Lord hasn't given any indication that her mind has changed since May 6.

According to Georgia law, that amendment won't take effect until 45 days after it was signed so the action required five, not four votes. The mayor has no voting powers unless there is a tie. Ward 2 has been vacant since Karen-Brandee Williams was ousted by council members in July 2011.

The Ward 2 seat is up for election in November. Newly-elected Ward 1 Councilman Tommy Smith and Mayor David Lockhart are also up for re-election in November. The two men took office after a special election held in March. Until Ward 2 is filled, there is no way for the council to get a 5-0 vote.

City council appointed Steve Fincher and his law firm as the new Forest Park attorneys. Council members held a special session Saturday to hire a Buford firm led by Richard Carothers to represent them in the Mack and Harris suit.

Lockhart said the city needed outside counsel because Fincher has a vested interest in the outcome of the action.