published Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Johnnie Arnold out as LaFayette city manager


by Andy Johns

LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- LaFayette City Council members accepted the resignation of City Manager Johnnie Arnold after the veteran administrator told attorneys he had a beer during a lunch break before driving a city vehicle back to work.

Mayor Neal Florence said Arnold, who planned to retire in March, resigned Monday, but Arnold did not give a reason for his decision.

The council also announced that Franklin T. Etheridge, 51, the former city manager in Pembroke, Ga., will take over as city manager Oct. 10 when Arnold's resignation takes effect.

Attempts to reach Arnold have been unsuccessful since he stopped going to work last Wednesday. Florence said Arnold is on a break "like vacation" but was not suspended.

Rob Reid, the attorney representing three former LaFayette employees in an age discrimination suit against the city, said in a deposition Friday that Arnold told him he and secretary Doris Greene recently drank one beer each at a local pizza restaurant during lunch before he drove back to work in a city vehicle. According to Reid, Arnold also admitted he and Greene were in a romantic relationship but never told the council because the city didn't have a policy against it.

Florence would not comment on Greene's status, but she was at work Monday.

Reid said Arnold claimed he saw nothing wrong with having a drink because it was one beer accompanied by food.

"I asked him if he would approve of an employee who operated heavy equipment for the Public Works department having a beer at lunch, and he stated it depends," Reid said in an email. "When I asked him if such employees might have to operate heavy machinery or vehicles after lunch in emergencies, he admitted then drinking beer with lunch might not be a good idea."

Council members would not comment on the issues surrounding Arnold, but Councilman Andy Arnold said the new city manager would redo parts of the employee handbook.

"We always tweak the policies," said Arnold, who is not related to the city manager.

Friday morning, in response to a Chattanooga Times Free Press records request, City Clerk Brenda Snyder said there were no complaints or disciplinary actions on file against Arnold or Greene. She also said there were no performance reviews in his file throughout his 13-year tenure with the city.

Contacted by phone after the meeting, Etheridge said he is excited to start.

"I look forward to working with the department heads," he said. "I think that's a big part of it."

Arnold had planned to stick around to help train his replacement, but council members said they still expect a smooth transition.

"It'll be no different than the city manager taking a week or two vacation," Councilman Eric Tallent said.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfree press.com or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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September 27, 2011 at 11:01 a.m.
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