Peachtree City Council members held illegal meeting?

Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch. File photo.
Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch. File photo.

Former WASA chairman accuses Peachtree City sewer board members of violating sunshine laws; complaint names Mayor Fleisch and 4 council members; no comment as of Wednesday — 

Former Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority Chairman John Dufresne says he is filing an open records lawsuit against the current WASA board of directors, which since last year has been the five members of the City Council.

John Dufresne at a City Council meeting. File photo.
John Dufresne at a City Council meeting. File photo.

“The suit alleges that Mayor Vanessa Fleisch and council members Mike King, Terry Ernst, Phil Prebor and Kevin Madden, while serving as WASA board members, conducted a closed meeting executive session during the Nov. 5, 2018, WASA meeting, and subsequently approved a change to the employees’ health insurance policy that increased employee costs, all in violation of O.C.G.A §50-14-1,” according to the emailed news release from Dufresne.

The Citizen emailed all five council members Monday morning for comments on the lawsuit, but no response had been received by print deadline. As an autonomous public authority, WASA is legally bound to follow the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

“Peachtree City Council simply needs to follow the sunshine law, especially given the very limited oversight of their actions as the WASA board. This meeting had several serious errors, which shows their contempt for the law,” Dufresne said.

Dufresne said he previously served on the WASA board “until the mayor and council viewed the WASA board as disobedient and simply removed the entire board through General Assembly legislative action. They substituted themselves as the WASA board members.”

“The council’s moves were political and not authorized by law, Dufresne said. “At the heart of this, is the mayor and council’s desire to control WASA, and the improper exercise of their power to do so. This alleged Open Meeting violation is just another open government violation by an experienced mayor and council that knows better.”

In his complaint, Dufresne said, “The record shows the WASA board considered four items on the Nov. 5, 2018, meeting agenda. The first item was [a] health insurance presentation. A consultant presented plan options for renewing the employee health insurance policy and recommended one plan. The board took no action after the presentation, made no proper motion to table or continue under Robert’s Rules of Order, and dismissed the consultant.

“The board moved on the remaining three agenda items before adjourning into a closed meeting executive session allegedly to discuss ‘personnel, real estate and potential litigation’,” Dufresne said.

“The mayor and council returned to the public meeting with only one item remaining: ‘Adjournment.’ Instead, without following the rules, including reopening the matter for discussion, defendants immediately approved the health insurance plan recommended by the consultant, but also included a feature the consultant had not mentioned in his public meeting presentation. Insurance costs for employees went up, and Dufresne challenges the propriety of the vote due to the Open Meetings violations,” Dufresne’s news release said.

The council removed the existing volunteer WASA board members last summer — one of them Dufresne — and replaced them with the five elected members of the council. The contract of the WASA general manager, an employee of the board, subsequently was not renewed. Instead, the council/WASA board made a new deal with a Fayetteville engineering firm — Integrated Science and Engineering — to manage the authority for $287,000 a year.

At the time of the change, Mayor Fleisch said the deal with ISE is not a contract, and does not require the Peachtree City Council, which now operates also as WASA authority members, approving it.