An ethics complaint filed against Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix — stemming from nearly $10,000 in city funds paid to defend and settle a libel lawsuit — has been dropped.
The citizen who lodged the complaint, Steve Thaxton, dropped the complaint after he was unable to convince Haddix to forego legal representation in the matter when addressing council during a special called meeting Tuesday night.
Thaxton said since Haddix refused to go through the process without legal representation, he felt it necessary to drop the ethics charges to avoid a further expense of taxpayer money for legal fees.
Initially however, Thaxton tried to coax Haddix into a gentleman’s agreement in which Haddix would avoid the use of an attorney and Thaxton would drop the ethics complaint after the citizen ethics board made its decision on whether a violation occurred … and before the board could vote on one of six potential “penalty” actions.
Haddix, who vehemently declined to take Thaxton up on the offer, said he was entitled to legal representation, and if Thaxton wanted to avoid that possibility he could withdraw the complaint.
Ultimately, City Attorney Ted Meeker hastily drew up a handwritten notice signed by Thaxton which formally communicated his wish to withdraw the complaint.
The called meeting Tuesday night was to allow council to appoint four members to the ethics board by drawing names out of a basket. After that was accomplished, council was expected to formally vote to ratify the $300 an hour attorney selected by Haddix to represent him for the ethics charge.
At that point, Thaxton rose and asked to speak but at first Haddix declined. Seconds later, common sense prevailed and Thaxton was allowed to make his proposal to Haddix.
To some the necessity of an attorney in an ethics hearing might seem odd, particularly given the ethics board’s lack of power to mete out “punishment” if a violation is deemed to have occurred.
By city ordinance, if an ethics board rules determines a public official or employee has violated the city’s ethics ordinance, it has several choices to conclude the matter:
• A public reprimand and admonishment not to violate the ethics code in the future;
• A formal reprimand;
• Public censure;
• Recommendation for termination, resignation or recall;
• Recommendation of prosecution in municipal court; and
• No admonishment and no further action.
The ethics complaint centered on a nearly $10,000 payment the city made to the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA) to cover the legal defense and settlement of a libel lawsuit filed against Haddix personally by former mayor Harold Logsdon. The statement at issue in the lawsuit was contained in an email from Haddix to a city employee, and ultimately the lawsuit was settled in December for a $3,000 payment from Haddix to Logsdon along with a letter of apology.
GIRMA initially denied coverage to Haddix but reversed its decision earlier this year several months after the case was settled. Because the $9,969 total for legal fees and the settlement was under the city’s $25,000 deductible, GIRMA per its contract cut a check for the amount, which required the city to repay GIRMA.
GIRMA officials would later say they would have covered Haddix’s legal fees from the beginning of the case had GIRMA known that the allegedly libelous statement been contained in an email from Haddix to a city employee which GIRMA contends brought the matter into the realm of official city business.
Thaxton contended that Haddix should have sought council approval for the expenditure instead of seeking payment from GIRMA. Thaxton also complained that Haddix chose to hire Fayetteville attorney John Mrosek who at the time of the libel suit was a plaintiff in a federal clean water lawsuit filed against the city.
The ethics complaint also accused Haddix of violating several portions of the city’s personnel policy, including one forbidding “discourteous treatment of the public or other employees.”
Some council members were outraged when the GIRMA payment came to light in May because it was thought since Haddix was sued personally and not in his official capacity as mayor, the city would not have to pay for his legal fees.
Several weeks after the GIRMA payment came to light, council decided to make a “budget adjustment” to reduce Haddix’s salary from $750 a month to just under $75 a month for the remainder of the fiscal year with the intention of recouping the funds that were paid to settle the lawsuit. That action is likely the first time in city history that a majority of council voted to dock the pay of a fellow elected official.