Jury selection is slated for Tuesday in Bulloch County Superior Court for former city manager Frank Parker's whistleblower and wrongful-firing lawsuit against the city of Statesboro, with the trial scheduled to begin Feb. 24.
Parker was named interim manager in October 2010 and served as full city manager from June 14, 2011, until City Council fired him by a 3-2 vote on June 24, 2014.
In a meeting with city department heads five days earlier, Parker reportedly said either that he sometimes met privately with a majority of council members and discussed city business, or that he had observed council members doing so, according to retellings of the incident now on record. This followed a comment by Mayor Jan Moore that City Council discussions resulting in a raise for city employees had been contentious but necessarily public.
At the council meeting where Parker was dismissed, council members who favored the firing said that if his statements were true he had violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act, but that if they were false he had slandered the council.
In turn, Parker filed a lawsuit alleging that he had acted as a whistleblower in reporting the violations and that the city fired him in retaliation. This and a claim that his employment contract was violated remain key parts of the suit as it heads to trial.
"The City Council terminated Mr. Parker after he notified the Mayor that the City Council had violated the Open Meetings Act. The termination was retaliatory," is an assertion from the outline of Parker's case by his attorneys that was included in the pretrial order filed this week.
Daniel B. Snipes as Parker's lead attorney, R. Read Gignilliat as lead counsel for the city, and Superior Court Court Judge John R. "Robbie" Turner signed the order after a pretrial hearing Monday.
The city defense team's outline of the case states that the City Council members who were serving at the time "expressly deny that they ever formulated, discussed, presented, or voted upon any City business outside a properly noticed public meeting."
It further asserts that Parker's employment was terminated based on a City Council determination that he had engaged in "unprofessional and improper practices" and that his alleged "disclosures" were false or made with reckless disregard for the truth.
Jury to decide
According to the plaintiff's summary of issues, Parker is asking the jury to determine whether city officials breached his employment contract, whether they retaliated against him for disclosing potential violations of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, and what damages he should be awarded as a result, including attorney's fees and expenses.
Originally, Parker had filed suit not just against the city government as such, but also against Moore, City Council members Phil Boyum, Travis Chance and John Riggs and now-former council members Will Britt and Gary Lewis. Britt and Lewis, who cast the two votes against Parker's firing, originally were assigned a separate attorney who made a point of that fact.
Additionally, attorneys for both sides agreed that Lewis wasn't present at the private meetings Parker allegedly disclosed.
Originally Parker also alleged that the mayor and council members slandered him on the day he was fired and intentionally caused him emotional distress with the statements they made.
But Turner, in an Oct. 30 summary judgment, rejected those claims on points of law, leaving only the whistleblower and contract claims for a jury to decide on the basis of facts. Turner also eliminated the mayor and current and former council members as separate defendants, leaving only the city government itself potentially liable for damages.
The pretrial order also identifies two insurers, Public Risk Underwriters of Georgia Inc. and Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company, and shows a demand from Parker's side for the defendants to identify any other companies providing any level of insurance.
The plaintiff's estimate of the time required for the trial is two days, and the defendant's estimate is four days, according to the order.
Snipes, as Parker's attorney, and Moore, as mayor of Statesboro, were contacted for this story and declined to comment with the trial approaching.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.