Crowd blasts Fort Oglethorpe council over surprise firings

Crowd blasts Fort Oglethorpe council over surprise firings

March 26th, 2013 by Tim Omarzu in News

Louise Stinnett, standing right, and Glenda Duncan, center, stand and clap with others Monday night as Fort Oglethorpe City Council listen to complaints about the questionable dismissal of several members of city council last week.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Clay Kissner could have let voters in Fort Oglethorpe decide in November whether stores and restaurants can sell alcohol on Sundays.

But the newly elected city councilman abstained Monday from casting what would have been the deciding vote on the controversial matter, which died.

"I just don't feel like I've had enough information," said Kissner, who vowed to decide before it's too late to get the issue on the ballot.

Kissner was taken to task by some members of the standing-room-only crowd who had shown up to protest the surprise resignation Friday of City Manager Ron Goulart followed by the firing of Public Works Director Jeff Long and Police Chief David Eubanks. The two longtime employees were let go by interim City Manager Harold Silcox.

"He made a decision to fire three people in three minutes," one man said of Kissner, who voted to hire Silcox. "But you can't make a decision ... how to vote now?"

The crowd, many of whom wore stickers emblazoned with the word "Recall," also took Councilmen Louie Hamm and Johnnie "Red" Smith to task -- and especially singled out Mayor Lynn Long. They accused the trio of masterminding the firings.

"You can't just run a government being a dictator," said Larry Reed, who owns apartments in Fort Oglethorpe. Reed said the mayor violated the rules when he made the motion Friday to hire Silcox.

"The mayor doesn't make a motion," Reed said. "The mayor only votes when there's a tie."

A few audience members accused Lynn Long of smirking during public comment.

"You have laughed at everybody who's walked up here," one man said. "I don't know what's so funny. This is serious business."

Long said he smiles as a way to cope with his illness.

"I do smile a great deal," he said. "I have got multiple sclerosis, which is not a good disease to have."

Councilmen didn't respond to audience members' repeated requests for an explanation of the firings.

Former Catoosa County Commissioner Ken Marks, who ran against Long for mayor, got up and said, "Personnel issues. These guys can't comment on them."

Marks, who's critical of the firings, said voters can express their feelings at the polls.

Earl Gray was the only councilman who came away unscathed. Gray objected Friday to Goulart's resignation and Silcox's hiring. Gray reiterated his statement then that this was a "sad day for the city."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.