Edgemon was fired Sept. 11 due to a stated loss of confidence from the LaFayette Downtown Development Authority, which sent a memo to that effect to city manager Frank Etheridge on Sept. 7.
Edgemon appealed her termination Wednesday evening, with testimonies from Ron Underwood and Connie Forester, both of whom resigned their positions from the city Historic Preservation Commission in protest of the firing.
The council, following the appeal hearing and a lengthy executive session, upheld Edgemon‘s termination with a 4-0 vote. Council member Andy Arnold was not present.
During the appeal hearing Underwood and Forester acted as character witnesses, while Edgemon defended herself against the statements in her termination letter and the DDA memo.
Edgemon cited her accomplishments while with the city of LaFayette and alleged that she believed improper actions had taken place within her department, ranging from misappropriation of funds to rumor-mongering to possible pilfery from her desk.
The council determined that Edgemon had not taken these concerns directly to her superior, the city manager, but instead had spoken to her coworkers and colleagues, causing gossip and misinformation on more than one occasion.
Asked why she did not voice her worries directly to Etheridge, Edgemon replied that she did not feel comfortable around the city manager, due in part to a belief that he had insinuated that Edgemon obtained her job with the city through improper behavior with former city manager Johnny Arnold.
“I had Ron Underwood go with me to some of the meetings with the city manager because I was uncomfortable talking to him,” she said.
Etheridge said he had asked Edgemon on one occasion “What did Johnny Arnold hire you for?” in an attempt to clarify her job position, which had never been definitively put in writing. Etheridge said he meant no insinuation or disrespect, but was merely asking for Edgemon's job description at the time she was hired.
Edgemon also testified she was visibly upset regarding visits to LaFayette by consultant David Sutton, who was brought to the city by Etheridge, his longtime friend, at a portion of his usual rate, in order to speak to the boards about main street development and the creation of a historic business district.
Edgemon claimed she was not informed beforehand of his visits. Underwood and Forester stated that Sutton brought nothing new to the DDA or historic preservation commission and was not worth the cost of his fee. Edgemon said she did not approve the cost, which came out of her department fund. Etheridge said he was within his right as city manager to approve any and all department charges under $3,000. He said Sutton performed other work for the city, including drafting a slum-and-blight ordinance and preparing documents regarding the establishment of an opportunity zone.
“I was not told about the meetings that some of the DDA members had with Mr. Sutton,” Edgemon said, “and I never knew anything until I saw an expense report. I saw that more money was going out of my department than I had written checks for. Frank (Etheridge) received the invoices and signed the checks himself, and no copy of anything was ever given to me so I would know this money had come out of my budget. He came up here multiple times, charging my department.”
Edgemon was also rattled that members of the DDA had stated in their letter to the city manager that she did not attend DDA events and was more interested in the Historic Preservation Commission than in the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street development.
“You cannot take historic preservation out of Main Street and maintain accreditation or have an effective program,” she said. Edgemon also cited multiple conflicts that caused her to miss recent DDA events, such as cruise-ins in downtown LaFayette.
“Most of the cruise-ins were scheduled on days when I had vacation time and had requested it back in January,” she said. “I don't know of other people being asked to cancel vacation because of something that's decided six months later. I told them when I talked to them about the cruise-ins that I couldn't be at some of them because of vacation, and I missed one in June because I was sick.”
Downtown Development Authority chairman Michael Lovelady listed 27 complaints in the Sept. 7 memo to Etheridge, including that Edgemon “failed to properly advise or address the issues relative to the Historic Preservation Ordinance,” “has been unwilling or unable to understand and execute her role and responsibilities as the Main Street Coordinator relative to the DDA,” “has often acted counterproductive to the efforts of the DDA board as well as those of the city manager relative to her roles and responsibilities as the Main Street Coordinator,” and “has compromised the DDA board's negotiations relative to real estate by disclosing discussions held in executive session to the local radio station.”
Edgemon countered by saying that the DDA has been purposefully edging her out over the past few months.
“There have been some problems, some meetings of the DDA members — certain members — outside of the board, when not a quorum is present,” Edgemon said, “and they're making decisions about what the DDA is going to do before it was voted in the meetings to do it. The cruise-ins were decided before we met and I got an email telling me to copy fliers and write a memo about it. And so were the movies. In June I told the city manager that I wasn't comfortable writing a memo about something that was never discussed with me or about things that were decided without the full board meeting to discuss it yet.
“I was not told about the ribbon-cutting for Syntec and some Chamber events or other things that happened when the city manager was the only contact person,” she said. “I feel like I was being deliberately isolated to make me appear ineffective in my job. I think that some of the DDA members have met with the city manager several times privately.”
Edgemon added that she had increasing suspicions about members of the DDA. “I have come to my office sometimes where things have been moved from where I left them,” she said. “I have nothing to hide, but I do feel disrespected.”
Concerning the failed attempt by the DDA this past year to create a downtown historic business district ordinance, Edgemon countered the termination letter's assertion that she did not communicate well with business and property owners by stating that of the more than 100 owners in the proposed district, she personally visited at least three dozen of them to distribute information and talked with those who were available. The task of contacting the rest of the owners was delegated to other DDA members.
Edgemon reminded the council that she has brought more than $600,000 grant money to LaFayette, including the OneGeorgia grant, which is funding the new airport terminal. “I have accomplished what I have, not always with the city's full support, and sometimes despite the lack of it.”
The DDA memo concludes: “Currently none of the current board members approve of Ms. Edgemon's performance to the point that discussions have already been had by the remaining board members that as a group we may be better off to dissolve the DDA and create our own merchant's association. While attempting to find replacement members for the current DDA open position, many of those contacted were not interested in serving on the board if Ms. Edgemon was to remain. The DDA is a volunteer board. As such, it requires at least one paid staff member to execute directives and assist the board in meeting its goals and objectives. It is all too apparent to even the most casual observer that Ms. Edgemon is either unwilling or unable to perform this function.”