FOREST PARK — City Council voted to hire a new city solicitor Monday evening — but the mayor doesn’t plan to let it stay that way.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart said before the vote.
Lockhart said he plans to veto the board’s majority decision to replace Solicitor Jerry Patrick with DeKalb County defense attorney Kristal Holmes. He has seven days to veto and four board members must disapprove in order to override that veto.
The board’s decision was not unanimous, but it seems only three council members will attempt to override the mayor’s veto.
When Councilwoman Linda Lord made a motion to re-appoint Patrick Monday evening, Councilman Dabouze Antoine leaned in close to the microphone.
“Opposed,” he said loudly, instead of the standard answer of “no.”
Council members Maudie McCord and Latresa Akins also voted to oust Patrick. The three then voted in the majority to replace Patrick with Holmes, a candidate both Akins and Antoine had tried to appoint to the position without conducting interviews in June.
Lockhart said Akins and Antoine said they chose to replace Patrick because of complaints from their constituents about him. Lockhart said some complaints are to be expected since the solicitor’s job is to prosecute.
“I think that makes sense, too, of a good prosecutor or a bad prosecutor,” Lockhart said. “Who likes the prosecutor? Well, as it happens, there are people who like the prosecutor who have been on the other side of his work…But in general people don’t like being in court. If you’re prosecuting me, you’re the bad guy.”
But Akins said she received complaints about Patrick from an employee who said the solicitor used his 17-year influence to intimidate people working around him.
“Maybe he’s too comfortable,” she said. “I don’t think no one should abuse their power. You don’t have to ruin other people’s jobs because you’ve been with the city for so long.”
But resident Dianne Lunsford seemed concerned some council members could have a “bad guy” mentality toward some or all of the three court positions filled Monday evening.
“Is it ethical for council members to vote for judges that they have been in front of before in court?” she asked during the public comment section of the meeting.
Council members cannot answer questions during that section of Forest Park’s council meetings, but Lunsford may have been referring to Antoine.
Patrick prosecuted Antoine in September 2012, after he burst into a sleeping woman’s room at In Town Suites where he was working at the time, according to a previous Clayton News Daily article. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was fined $430.
Antoine was also convicted of a DUI in Clayton County in 2010 and sentenced to 12 months probation, which he violated once.
Judge Allyson Pitts would have been residing over the municipal court at the time of the 2012 charges. The board voted unanimously to hire former municipal court judge Ronald Freeman in Pitts’ place Monday evening.
Antoine declined to talk to the Clayton News Daily over the phone. He said he’d answer questions over email, but had not emailed back responses as of press time Tuesday.
With both Patrick and Pitts gone, some seem worried Forest Park could be left with a relatively inexperienced municipal court. The former clerk, Zenikki Young, was arrested and charged with stealing from the court in June. That means the solicitor, judge and clerk positions in one of the busiest courts in the county would be filled with new hires.
Lockhart and Lord both said they felt leaving Patrick in the position of solicitor would help the court continue to run smoothly.
“Even though the solicitor is the prosecutor, he’s not simply charged with prosecution, but the role is ultimately justice through fact finding,” Lockhart said. “Jerry understands, because I’ve seen him practice it. I’ve seen the way he treats Forest Park residents who are held into court with a criminal citation…I’ve seen him use wise discretion.”
But Akins said she feels the status quo just isn’t working anymore.
“Forest Park needs a change in a lot of our positions that we have,” she said.
The Clayton News Daily was unable to reach McCord for comment as of press time.