Former Statesboro City Manager Frank Parker's breach-of-contract and whistleblower lawsuit against the city over his June 2014 firing was scheduled for a trial Wednesday, but has reportedly been settled by the city's insurer.
A jury was selected two weeks ago for the Bulloch County Superior Court civil trial. But Clerk of Courts Heather Banks McNeal received word Monday that the jury will not be needed, she confirmed Monday afternoon.
"It is not going to need a trial," McNeal said. "We just found that out a little while ago, that they have come to some type of agreement."
She said she didn't know any specifics but had been notified to let jury members know they would not be needed.
In a statement on behalf of the city, Mayor Jan Moore said the city was notified Monday that its insurance carrier had reached a settlement with Parker.
"The City's insurance carrier exercised its contractual right to unilaterally settle this civil action with the former employee," Moore wrote in the emailed statement. "The City did not participate in the settlement negotiations nor was its input sought in connection with the final decision to enter into the settlement agreement. This includes the monetary amount of the settlement which will be paid entirely by the insurer."
Because of the company's authority to settle a claim under the insurance policy and the way the settlement agreement is structured, it does not require approval of the mayor or City Council, Moore said in the statement.
"Therefore, the Mayor and City Council will not be voting to approve the settlement, and Mr. Parker's termination from the city remains intact and unaltered," Moore wrote.
After his firing by a 3-2 vote of Statesboro City Council on June 24, 2014, Parker filed suit alleging that he had acted as a whistleblower in reporting several Georgia Open Meetings Act violations and that the city fired him in retaliation. Initially, Parker also alleged that council members and the mayor had slandered him and intentionally inflicted emotional distress in the way he was fired.
Superior Court Judge John R. "Robbie" Turner rejected the slander and emotional distress claims on points of law in an Oct. 30, 2015, summary judgment, but had left the whistleblower and breach-of-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.
After serving as interim manager from October 2010, Parker was full city manager from June 14, 2011, until he was fired three years and 10 days later.
In a meeting with city department heads on June 19, 2014, Parker 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 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 if they were false, he had damaged the council's reputation with a false statement.
Council members Phil Boyum, Travis Chance and John Riggs, the three who voted to fire Parker, remain on the council. The two who voted against the firing, Will Britt and Gary Lewis, left office at the end of 2015 after not seeking re-election.
Riggs, Boyum and Chance expressed a mix of feelings about the settlement occurring short of a trial.
"I'm very unhappy," Riggs said. "I believe we were ready for it to go to trial and that we would have won."
He did not comment on the terms.
Boyum also declined to talk about the terms and said that council members had also been advised not to comment about Parker or the insurance company. But Boyum offered a statement about how he feels about the settlement occurring and some new ordinances pending action by the council.
"I am glad that we are putting this situation finally behind us," Boyum said. "I believe that when we pass the alcohol ordinance and this new vendor ordinance, we can really put our past problems behind us and focus on moving the city forward."
Chance's comment was similar.
"Personal feelings aside, I'm glad that the city can now move forward," he said.
OneBeacon is the name of the insurance company involved in the settlement, according to city officials. The pretrial order filed Feb. 2 identified Public Risk Underwriters of Georgia Inc. and Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company and showed a demand from Parker's side for the defendants to identify any other companies providing any level of insurance.
'Would have preferred ...'
The statement that Moore provided ended with this paragraph, which retains its original capitalization:
"The decision to settle was a business decision made by the insurer and was not based on any determination that the claims asserted against the City were in any way meritorious. To the contrary, the City stands by the personnel decision that was challenged in the civil action, and notes that the majority of the claims asserted against it in the civil action, as well as all claims asserted against the Mayor and members of the City Council, were thrown out by the Judge back in October. While the Judge decided that two claims would need to be resolved by a Jury, the City remains confident that it would have prevailed on those claims as well. The City therefore would have preferred its day in court, but must abide by its contractual obligations with its insurer."
Parker's lead attorney, Daniel B. Snipes of Statesboro, had not returned a late Monday afternoon call and email by press time.
McNeal said the court clerk's office had received nothing in writing. The Statesboro Herald filed an open records request at City Hall seeking documents and will publish more information about the settlement when it becomes available.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.