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Parker files lawsuit against city of Statesboro

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Posted: September 3, 2014 8:09 p.m.
Updated: September 3, 2014 7:56 p.m.
Parker files lawsuit against city of Statesboro

Frank Parker

Former City Manager Frank Parker filed suit against the city of Statesboro and its elected officials Wednesday in Bulloch County Superior Court, alleging that he was wrongfully fired and asking that he be reinstated and awarded unspecified damages.

As Parker's attorney, Dan Snipes of Statesboro, had predicted, the formal complaint does not state a dollar amount, leaving that to be determined by the court. Instead, the complaint asks for all damages allowed under Georgia law, including general and special damages and "the maximum civil fine."

In a July 22 ante-litem, or pre-litigation, notice that gave the city a chance to settle Parker's claims, Snipes had asked for more than $250,000 on his behalf.

Wednesday's filing lists as defendants the city itself, Mayor Jan Moore and all five City Council members "individually and as members."

Parker, the city manager from Oct. 5, 2010, was fired by the City Council on a 3-2 vote June 24, 2014. At that meeting, Moore and City Attorney Alvin Leaphart recounted statements Parker made at a June 19 meeting of city department heads. According to Moore's version at the June 24 meeting, Parker had said he regularly met "with four or five councilmen in a room to discuss city business." He also said he had seen Leaphart meeting with a quorum of council members in his office, which Leaphart denied ever having done.

Five counts

Parker's civil suit alleges five counts of wrongdoing by the city and its officials.

Count 1 alleges wrongful termination and breach of contract. It cites a passage from the city code of ordinances that requires a resolution from the City Council stating its reasons and a 30-day notice, with an opportunity to reply, before a city administrator is removed. Parker's firing was immediate.

Count 2 alleges that council violated the law popularly known as the Georgia Whistleblower Act, which prohibits retaliation against public employees for disclosing violations of laws or regulations.

Count 3 alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Count 4 alleges slander. "Although Plaintiff, as City Manager, cannot violate the Open Meetings Act in that his position does not constitute part of a quorum of the City Council, the comments of City Council publicly imputed a crime punishable by law to the Plaintiff," Snipes asserts in the complaint. It also describes comments made by the defendants as "false and malicious" and asserts that they made them "intentionally, recklessly and negligently ... to the public."

Count 5 alleges that City Council violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

"No special circumstances exist to justify the closed door politics, discussions and actions taken by Defendants at such meetings," the complaint asserts.

Read Gignilliat, an Atlanta attorney representing the city of Statesboro in its dispute with Parker, was not contacted for this report but had replied to the ad-litem notice in a letter to Snipes and commented by phone for an Aug. 24 article. Gignilliat and city officials then deferred somewhat to the outcome of an investigation requested by the city, but he rejected Parker's allegations.

"I don't think there's any merit to the allegations that he's made, particularly in regard to his employment," Gignilliat said. "I think that the city acted within its rights in terminating his employment, irrespective of what the investigative report reveals."

Responding to the slander allegation in his reply letter, Gignilliat had referred to "privileged" communications, implying that city officials could not slander Parker with statements made as part of official proceedings.

Gignilliat has also asserted that the ordinance requiring notice for firing a city administrator applied only to the position with that title, which no longer exists. Snipes' complaint, in contrast, asserts that as "city manager," Parker filled the same position as a "city administrator."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Snipes said the usual procedure is that the city will have 30 days after being served with the complaint to file an answer, after which both sides will go through an approximately six-month discovery process with exchanges of requests for documents and taking sworn statements from witnesses. Parker's complaint asks for a jury trial.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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