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City reinstates McCorkle
Council vote split 3-2; Britt, Chance against action
McCorkle web
Judy McCorkle
    In an unexpected move, the Statesboro City Council voted Tuesday to reinstate former city clerk and director of finance and administration Judy McCorkle.
    After a heated discussion which showed apparent divisiveness among the council members, Councilmen Joe Brannen, Gary Lewis and Tommy Blitch voted for the motion while Travis Chance and Will Britt voted against.
    Britt was highly critical of the action.
    “This is absolutely the single worst decision this council has ever made,” Britt said. “The majority of citizens of Statesboro would clearly agree with that. I believe that if department heads weren't afraid for their jobs, they would tell all four of the members of the board that feels this way that this is not a good decision for the city of Statesboro right now.”
    Mayor Bill Hatcher expressed his support of the council's judgment during and after the meeting.
    “There are many facets to that decision. Ultimately the decision is that this is the best decision for the city of Statesboro. That's the belief of the majority of the council,” Hatcher said.
    Hatcher was asked what this vote says to City Manager Shane Hayes, considering the council decided to override his decision to terminate McCorkle.
    “You have to draw your own conclusion from that. I wouldn't comment on that,” Hatcher said. “The only comment I'll make is that three separate times before he released Ms. McCorkle, I said to the city manager, 'That is not the thing to do. You should not do that at this time.'”
    McCorkle was released by Haynes in Sept. 2008, who at the time said the decision wasn't made in a vacuum but considered over a period of time.
    According to council members, they had asked Haynes at the time to try and work within the situation and resolve the issues between himself and McCorkle. However, they also told Haynes that ultimately personnel decisions were his responsibility.
    After being terminated, McCorkle hired Atlanta attorney Gerald Weber, who contacted the city and informed them of McCorkle's intent to sue the city if a settlement could not be reached.
    Last week, attorneys for McCorkle and the city met for mediation and worked out two proposals, which were put before the council Tuesday. After discussing both options during a lengthy executive session, the two proposals were brought before council during the public portion of the meeting.
    The first option, which was offered up in a motion by Britt, the city would have given McCorkle a settlement fee of $450,000 as a full payment for all claims. She would not have been eligible to re-apply for employment with the city and been required to sign a general release and covenant not to sue.
    That motion failed to pass with a vote of 3-2 against the motion, with Britt and Chance voting to settle and Brannen, Blitch and Lewis voting to not settle.
    According to City Attorney Sam Brannen, had the motion passed, the city would have been responsible for half of the settlement amount and the city's insurance, provided by the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, would have paid the other half.
    Chance was clearly upset by the voting result.
    “This decision was made before we ever went into council or executive session today,” Chance said. “The reason I say that is we decided at the last council meeting that if we could negotiate through mediation her settlement to be under a certain number, then that would be what would happen. We were well under that number.”
After the first motion failed, Councilman Blitch moved to reinstate McCorkle to her former positions, which was the second proposal that came out of last week's mediation process.
    In addition to reinstating McCorkle to her former positions, she will receive nearly $68,000 in back pay and $50,000 in attorney's fees. Also, she will have her benefits reinstated including her existing sick pay hours, accumulated vacation time of 42 days as well as retirement benefits, and life, health, dental and long-term disability insurance.
    Brannen said finances were a big reason for his vote to reinstate the former city clerk.
    “The main thing was the difference of $322,000 cost to the city and that the way I felt I needed to go — trying to save (the city) those dollars,” Brannen said. “I hope we've come up with a fair decision, but only time will tell that.”
Lewis said he talked to a number of constituents in his district who expressed concern about the city spending money during these tough financial times.
”I don't think it's right for the citizens of Statesboro to have to keep paying out for foolishness,” Lewis said.
    “I did my own survey and a lot of people thought she should come back - and I'm talking about over in my area,” said Lewis. “People can think what they want, but I thought it was the best thing to do. This was the cheapest way to go for the people in the community. I mean $250,000 and we have people on furlough - I don't think we need to pay that right now.”
    Chance said he's already been contacted by city staffers and concerned citizens.
    “Our citizens deserve better than the council they have right now. Our citizens deserve to have a council that is not led by financial or personal gain, but should have a council that looks at the issues and decides what's best for the city and stand behind their decision,” Chance said. “This is terrible for the city staff. Since this meeting, I've had staff members call me and ask about their job. They're already worried.
    “I think this is going to be a detriment to the city. We're taking the needs of the one and outweighing the needs of the many.”
    Phil Boyum may be reached at (912) 489-9454.
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