Since the Lithonia City Council fired the city clerk nearly four months ago, the small city has been grinding to a halt.
Because there is no clerk, “the city can only operate on a limited capacity,” said Lithonia Mayor Tonya Peterson said.
Lithonia’s city charter allows for a city clerk, police chief, part-time mayor and a city administrator. For the past four months, Peterson has “assumed the responsibilities and duties of both city administrator and city clerk—completing paperwork, enrollment in [a] benefits program and payroll,” she said in a statement.
Peterson said the council, over her objections, fired the previous city clerk on March 28. The clerk, Missye Varner, was terminated after she accepted service of a lawsuit delivered by a DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy.
Lithonia city attorney Winston Denmark argued in court last month during a hearing on the lawsuit that Varner was not authorized to accept service of the lawsuit.
Varner was replaced by a temporary clerical worker from a staffing agency who answers phones and takes messages.
Peterson said the council’s inaction in hiring a clerk or administrator is a violation of the city’s charter and “a violation of our citizens’ basic rights to representation.”
“Our licensing, permitting and overall processes are grinding to a halt while certain council members reallocate funds to various pet projects,” Peterson said.
“The recent action to offer a below-standard salary to one individual shows that they are not serious about changing the present course,” Peterson said.
According to council member Deborah Jackson, the council made an offer on July 13 to Franklin T. Etheridge of Pembroke, Ga., who was city administrator there from 2009 to 2011, until the Pembroke City Council asked for his resignation.
Etheridge said he did not know why the council made that request and the Pembroke mayor did not return phone calls from The Champion. Etheridge was one of three finalists interviewed by the Lithonia City Council. Approximately 10-20 candidates applied for the position, Jackson said.
Etheridge, who has a masters degree in public administration from Troy State University, said he looks forward to the opportunity to work in community development in a metropolitan area city.
“My background is fairly in-depth in community development,” Etheridge said.
Before working in Pembroke, Etheridge was the planning director for Jackson County from 2005-09.
Pembroke said he would probably make a decision on accepting the Lithonia position this week.
The full-time city administrator would be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city and have a salary of $40,000.
According to its job description, the administrator would be appointed by the city council and receive administrative direction from the mayor. The administrator would direct the city government’s departments and their daily operations.
Lithonia is looking for someone with a master’s degree in business administration or public administration with five years of local government experience.
The offer has not been accepted yet.
In the meantime, Peterson called for the Lithonia City Council members to staff the city hall during lunch starting July 18.
“I believe the taxpayer-based salaries of elected officials are for more than just attending meetings,” Peterson stated. “If taxpayers are working for us, the city must work for taxpayers.”