The divisive, adversarial relationship between Kelly Kautz, the current occupant of the Snellville mayor’s office, and the five members of the City Council, has been well documented in the media, videos of council meetings and in the two lawsuits filed by the Kautz against the Council. The unfortunate strife caused by Kautz’s unilateral actions has repeatedly brought to the city notoriety of the type that is best avoided, causing residents and non-residents alike to ask, “Why can’t you all just get along?”
The complex tapestry of issues and allegiances that is at the core of the divisiveness denies a simple explanation. But there is perhaps no more exemplary an answer to the question than the 4-1 vote to approve the separation agreement between the City and former clerk, Melisa Arnold. The lone dissenting vote against reasonably compensating a valued employee who was treated unfairly, was cast by Kautz.
Melisa Arnold served the City in outstanding fashion for 24 years. As City Clerk, she was praised by virtually everyone with whom she came in contact; even Kautz commented favorably about her work and service to the City. So it was with considerable dismay that the members of the City Council learned of Kautz’s unilateral decision to replace Ms. Arnold as City Clerk and reassign her to a position that did not exist.
When members of the Council blocked Kautz’s action, she filed a lawsuit and while the suit was in process, Ms. Arnold resigned. The recently approved separation agreement defines the terms under which Ms. Arnold leave the City’s employment.
For members of the City Council, the core of the disagreement with Kautz wasn’t focused on economics but on compassion, specifically a disdain for treating valued employees like a pair of old shoes. When unfortunate circumstances occur, you do everything possible to ameliorate the effect. Yet for Kautz, it appears that anyone who does not serve her personal agenda deserves no more consideration than a pair of old shoes.
The difference in perspective is apparent in the Gwinnett Daily News account of the meeting at which the separation agreement was approved. “There is no reason for this council to be considering a settlement with Miss Arnold at this time,” Kautz said, reading a prepared statement. “Miss Arnold was never fired by myself as some people like to say. She has since gained employment with Gwinnett County and has not been harmed. I’ve always tried to be respectful of Miss Arnold.”
Ms. Arnold “has not been harmed”? She was dragged through the mud by Kautz’s attorneys, she learned of her “reassignment” when her proposed replacement, with hangers-on in tow, were paraded through City Hall, she had to endure the distress of sitting through a trial, and she worked for months with the specter of termination hanging over her head. One would have to be delusional to think that such treatment isn’t harmful.
In an ironic attempt to justify her actions, Kautz went on to claim that Ms. Arnold had made errors during her tenure as clerk. As noted in the Gwinnett Daily Post report, council members took issue with Kautz’s attack. “Members of the council passionately argued against the mayor’s logic, particularly after she suggested that Arnold made errors in her duties as city clerk.
“I find it despicable that you sit here and downgrade Miss Arnold,” (Tom) Witts told Kautz. “You would be hard-pressed to find anybody in the city that agrees with your assessment.”
He added: “You saw her that day when she resigned. You saw the mental state she was in. … You’re responsible for that.”
Kautz’s attack on Ms. Arnold and the Council’s disgust with it capsulize only the human aspect of the divisiveness. There’s also a financial component. As City Attorney Tony Powell stated, “It is wise to accept the settlement. There is legal justification for it in spades. It comes with my high recommendation.” Mr. Powell was referring to the potential for a very costly lawsuit, which the City would almost certainly lose.
The divisiveness between the mayor and the Council is indeed unfortunate. But more unfortunate still what can only be characterized as an unacceptable lack of regard for the feelings and well-being of the employees who serve our City so well. Snellville is fortunate to have such an unparalleled group of competent and dedicated people in its employ. These people are not old shoes. And five members of this Council will never treat them as such.