UPDATED: Sudden dismissal of long-time PTC Rec head angers many

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UPDATED for Wednesday print edition — Having retired in 2002, former Peachtree City Manager Jim Basinger has kept away from City Council meetings.

That changed Thursday night as he spoke up for former employee Randy Gaddo, whose position as director of leisure services was later eliminated in a “reorganization” of city depar
tments that was approved unanimously by council.

Basinger said with five grandchildren now, he appreciates all the recreation the city has to offer even more.

“I feel like we’re sending the wrong message to our citizens,” Basinger said, noting that Gaddo was an early riser, at work around 5:30 a.m.

“He has a wealth of knowledge, and he set up that division,” Basinger said. “… I think it would be a real mistake to let Randy go.”

Gaddo also has been recognized as the heart and soul behind the city’s annual Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day observance ceremonies, which prior to his coming on board did not exist. Those ceremonies have become elaborate productions as a nod to the area’s many veterans who served their country.

At Thursday’s council meeting, resident David Pina said he thought Gaddo was a person of “true character and integrity.” Resident Kim Westwood said she was unsure if the city was treating Gaddo, a Marine veteran, “with the honor and dignity that he deserves.”

Several citizens, including former city council member Cyndi Plunkett, criticized the last-minute notice behind the reorganization. Notice of it being put on the agenda was communicated approximately 26 hours before the meeting; customarily the city publishes its agenda nearly six full days prior to a council meeting.

Gaddo declined to speak with The Citizen about the matter. Immediately following the unanimous vote approving the reorganization, Gaddo quietly left council chambers through the staff door.

Prior to its vote, council adjourned to executive (closed) session briefly to discuss the matter outside of the public, which is allowed by Georgia law.

Although Gaddo and recreation facilities manager Scott Christopher were let go in the reorganization, the changes created a position for a “director of community services” who will oversee the recreation department along with the amphitheater and the city’s planning and zoning department.

City Planner David Rast, who was formerly director of Community Development, was tapped to fill that position on an interim basis, although he will be effectively demoted to “planning and zoning administrator” as part of the reorganization.

City Manager Jim Pennington said the reorganization was not a criticism of any employee, but of “the structure in which they were expected to function.”

The reorganization was designed “to remove some of the arbitrary separations that have grown up between departments over the years,” Pennington said in a letter to city residents following the June 16 council meeting.

The reorganization eliminates the city’s leisure services department, moving the library management under the city’s administrative services director, and moving recreation to the new community services division, which will also consist of the amphitheater and the planning and zoning arm of the city.

The recreation maintenance crews who had been overseen by Christopher were transferred to the public services division; the engineering department was moved from the now-defunct community development division to the public services division.

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EARLIER print and online version —

PTC sacks 2 employees in hastily-announced ‘reorganization’

Citizens decry 26-hour notice as effort to stifle public input, debate

The public didn’t get much warning about a plan for the Peachtree City Council to sack two high-ranking recreation employees and demote a third as part of a sweeping “reorganization” of city departments.

Over the objections of a “who’s who” of community members, the council unanimously approved the actions anyway at Thursday night’s meeting.

It was revealed that council had been talking about the moves in executive session, meaning that the pending action had been kept under wraps officially for some 13 days

before it was added to the council agenda by city staff in an email notice to The Citizen Wednesday, June 15 at 4:44 p.m.

That tallies up to 26 hours advance notice, five days after the city published the agenda and supporting documentation online in advance of Thursday night’s meeting. [Click here for the earlier online story.]

And so it was that former city councilmember Cyndi Plunkett took to the microphone Thursday night to encourage council to accept “public debate” on the matter, as she recalled the arduous process that resulted in more than a 23 public works and recreation maintenance crewmen being let go when she was on council.

“The public debate was the most important part, because people needed to understand why we were making those tough decisions,” Plunkett said. “… What are the cost savings? What is the streamlining? What are you going to accomplish by making these changes? I don’t think any of us know and I think it’s very important to have the opportunity to know those things.”

Scott Bradshaw, a former member of the Development Authority of Peachtree City, called Gaddo “one of the most level-handed compassionate leaders” in the city.

Bradshaw was critical of what he perceived as an effort to hide the personnel moves until 24 hours before the meeting.

“The reason you did it was so this room wouldn’t be full of soccer moms, and it wouldn’t be full of coaches, and it wouldn’t be full of recreation department supporters,” Bradshaw said.

He then asked council “to defer this until you get some more input from the community, and take a further look at it and see if there are other options we can think about.”

Also urging a postponement were former long-time city employees: former city manager Jim Basinger, former city clerk Frances Meaders and former building official Tom Carty. Joining them were Rotary Club President George Martin and several other residents.

Meaders was strong in her criticism of the hasty notice for the proposal. She said she is proud of having helped play a part in what Peachtree City has become, “but we are very fast tearing it down.”

Resident Gerri Holt said her deceased husband Luther Holt “would be rolling over in his grave” if he learned about what was happening to Gaddo.
Overcome with emotion, Holt looked across the room at Gaddo.

“Randy, you’re the greatest,” she said, drawing applause from a handful in the audience.

After public comment ended, Mayor Don Haddix later noted that in defense of new City Manager Jim Pennington, the reorganization strategy was not his alone.

In light of the public criticism, council took the unusual strategy of a mid-meeting executive (closed) session to discuss the personnel matter, as allowed by Georgia law.

When they returned, Councilmember Kim Learnard said the decision was really hard to make but she felt council was doing the best it could to take the personal decisions out of the equation to do what she thinks is the right thing.

Councilmember Vanessa Fleisch said she thought the matter was handled in a timely manner given how Pennington addressed city staff on the matter earlier in the week.

Councilmember Eric Imker apologized for sounding what he called “cold” about the matter prior to the executive session, but he felt the city had to move forward.

And with that comment the unanimous vote was recorded. And Gaddo quietly rose from his seat and left council chambers without looking back.
Gaddo was one of two employees whose positions were “eliminated” in city parlance. The other was recreation facilities manager Scott Christopher.

The reorganization also affected Community Development Director and City Planner David Rast, who is receiving an effective demotion as the Community Development Department was eliminated. Rast was appointed to serve as director of the new community services division on an interim basis, according to the memo circulated to council.

The reorganization eliminates the city’s leisure services department, moving the library management under the city’s administrative services director, and moving recreation to the new community services division, which will also consist of the amphitheater and the planning and zoning arm of the city.

The recreation maintenance crews who had been overseen by Christopher were transferred to the public services division; the engineering department was moved from the now-defunct community development division to the public services division.

Also, the positions of housing code official and parks monitor will be combined with the two existing code enforcement officers operating as part of the police department.

While the city is eliminating Gaddo and Christopher’s positions, the memo did not explain whether city staff would be coming back at a later date with pay increase requests for the supervisors and/or directors who are handling the greater number of employees due to the reorganization.

According to a news release from city staff, the timing of the reorganization was necessary “to have meaningful conversations” about the upcoming budget proposal.

Council is slated to meet Monday and Tuesday nights beginning at 6:30 p.m. to hear details about the budget proposed by City Manager Pennington.

Also, the positions of housing code official and parks monitor will be combined with the two existing code enforcement officers operating as part of the police department.