With the publication of the GIRMA letter online and in this week’s print edition, the last quasi-legal pretense of the Peachtree City Council majority has been thoroughly discredited.
According to City Councilman Eric Imker, Mayor Don Haddix “stole” nearly $10,000 from the city to pay for defending against former Mayor Harold Logsdon’s libel suit. Mr. Imker and three other members voted to strip the mayor of 90 percent of his pay, ostensibly to recover what Mr. Imker in his letter to the editor characterized as “stolen” public funds.
The liability self-insurance fund for the city says both the city and the fund had a legal, contractual duty to mount a legal defense for Haddix, with or without the blessing of the council majority.
The Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency told the city attorney (who really should not have needed telling), “GIRMA enters into a Member Coverage Agreement (‘MCA’) with each of its member cities that delineates the relationship between GIRMA, the Named Member, and additional Members who are afforded coverage, to include elected officials, employees, and others.
“Under the GIRMA MCA, Members are owed a duty of defense and indemnity. … A liability insurer has a duty to defend its insured against all claims covered under a policy, even those that are groundless, false, or fraudulent. If there is even potential, or arguable, coverage, the insurer has a duty to defend.”
And that’s the legal end of the council majority’s argument that Haddix had no right to ask GIRMA to pay for his defense.
The city attorney and the council majority should have known that the contract between the city and GIRMA (which may have predated all of them) obligated a defense of the mayor and any member of council — even Imker — from ALL lawsuits, regardless of a plaintiff’s attempt to circumvent that contracted legal coverage for the mayor.
But was that offending hyphenated word contained in one sentence of an email really “official business” being conducted by the mayor?
GIRMA answers, per the existing contract, “Given the fact that the Mayor was communicating with a City employee regarding a matter of official business (i.e., changing a city ordinance), it was at least arguable that the Mayor was acting ‘for and on behalf of’ the City at the time he sent the offending email communication.”
GIRMA’s contractual obligation to the city and the mayor extended to a much more prolonged and greatly more expensive legal fight than actually happened, GIRMA said.
“The cost of a declaratory judgment action to have this question decided would have exceeded the amount reimbursed for defense and settlement of the claim. This claim was actually handled in the manner least costly to the City,” GIRMA said.
That bears repeating for an obsessed Mr. Imker and three other council cohorts: “This claim was actually handled in the manner least costly to the City.”
GIRMA further said, “political considerations play no role in coverage determinations.”
But political considerations are all Mr. Imker and his majority have left to cover their naked power play to serve their vindictiveness.
I have stated my opinion that Mr. Imker, and council members Kim Learnard, Vanessa Fleisch and George Dienhart acted in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution by passing a bill of attainder. That’s a legislative trial and punishment aimed at one person. And I assert the four violated their own city charter that specifies when and under what circumstances an elected official’s pay may be changed.
Mr. Imker and cohorts seem unrepentant, though they have cited no law, ordinance, rule or policy that allows them to take money from one of the members of the council without a judicial finding of wrong-doing.
This entire episode, whether popular or unpopular with segments of Peachtree City taxpayers, stinks of illegality. Mr. Imker and his three cohorts seem bent on punishing the mayor until some court steps in to whack them across the cheeks and forces them to start acting like law-abiding adults instead of like a clique of eighth-grade “mean girls” bullying an unpopular classmate.
By continuing to violate both the U.S. and Georgia constitutions and the city charter under which they serve and which they have taken an oath to uphold, Mr. Imker and his three cohorts have rendered themselves illegitimate holders of the public trust.
With their further ignorance of their and the city’s contractual obligations, they have impaired their own defenses should someone bring a lawsuit against one of them. Could Mr. Imker in good conscience seek a legal defense from GIRMA and the city should Mr. Haddix — for example — sue Mr. Imker for libel?
After all, Mr. Imker, acting in his unofficial capacity and writing a letter to the editor — not to some city employee — at rambling length accused Mr. Haddix of committing “theft” in “stealing” public money.
There’s a legal concept known as “libel per se” in which the very utterance of the words is itself factual evidence that a libel has been committed. The one uttering or writing such “libel per se” then must prove that the libel is true to escape judgment.
What would Mr. Imker offer in proof of theft? Probably not the GIRMA letter. Perhaps Mr. Logsdon’s attorney could advise Mr. Imker of his options.
Would it be delicious irony that Mr. Imker was thus hoist with his own petard in having to mount a legal defense (with his own personal funds, of course) of the same offense he so unrelentingly alleges Mr. Haddix committed?
But if he availed himself of the same contractual defense as Mr. Haddix did, would a council majority then “adjust the budget” a second time to recover those legal defense funds from Mr. Imker’s official city paycheck?
Who among you would say, “Well, that’s different”?
And I say, let’s return to the clearly defined rule of law, and put an end to this lawless, arbitrary and ego-driven rule of two men and two women.
[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]