By JOHN SCOTT COOPER, Staff Writer
Waycross city commissioners fired Raphel Maddox for “inappropriate conduct in the workplace” Tuesday in front of a roomful of his supporters, many of whom spoke in defense of him retaining his job as city manager.
Thus ended three weeks of paid administrative leave the city gave Maddox while an internal investigation was conducted on undisclosed bad behavior alleged against him.
While his indiscretion was not specified (details about the investigation were promised to be available in 10 days), the town rumor mill established from the outset that Maddox was accused by a City Hall worker of unwanted romantic advances toward her.
Maddox was present at the city commission meeting. Other than a slight facial expression of disappointment, he displayed little emotion.
“I’m grateful for the 10 years I had at the city,” Maddox said this morning. “I’m grateful for all the things we were able to accomplish. I wish the City of Waycross best luck in the future.”
While Maddox was gracious, his attorney, Steven Blackerby, decried a lack of fairness, citing that the city’s process in this instance did not allow his client to face his accuser or even know what the accusation is. Blackerby said Maddox does not “know in full the allegations” … “is not privy to the investigation” and has not seen the “report of the findings,” a fact that Maddox confirmed in comments today.
The attorney concluded Maddox should be able to see the evidence and respond, otherwise the commission’s action would be “unjust.”
Despite calls for commissioners to consider all the “facts” — including the benefits the city has incurred as a result of the leadership of Maddox — Commissioner John Threat made the motion to “remove Raphel Maddox from office and terminate his employment contract as city manager” for the cause of “inappropriate conduct in the workplace.” Commissioners Marian Solomon-Gaines, Diane Hopkins, Jon Tindall and Threat voted in favor of terminating him.
Commissioner Norman Davis was not present because he is recovering from surgery, Mayor John Knox said.
Fifteen persons touted Maddox Tuesday as a “man of integrity and character” and a servant of the city who was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on the scene when emergencies arose, no matter the time of day or night. His supporters included former mayor Clarence Billups, former city commissioners Leonard Burse and Larry Ethridge, pastors Sam and Renae Sellers, housing authority chairman Bennie Reed Jr., director of the McKinney Medical Center Ola Smith, James Medlock, uncle Freddie Maddox and several friends.
All of the commissioners said that they had no choice but to fire Maddox when faced with the facts provided to them. To do anything else would put them in danger of “liability exposure,” Threat said. Tindall said he was “troubled greatly” by having to make this decision about a man he considers to be a friend.
Threat told the friends of Maddox that the report presented to the city by the attorney who ran the in-house investigation could be accessed by the public 10 days after it is filed. He recommended they get a copy and read it.
But Knox recommended they not look at the report, hinting they didn’t need to see a tarnished view of Maddox.
“He is not the city manager now,” Knox said. “He did a great job while he was here. He’s a good man. He was a good patriot and soldier. You don’t need to look at the report.”
The murmurs of the crowd told of their disappointment in the commission’s decision.
They also murmured at the decision by the commission to not name the City Auditorium in honor of C.C. McCray, a city leader (now retired).
Early this summer Threat made the motion to rename the auditorium and a public hearing was held, at which no one spoke in opposition. But Tindall said Tuesday he has received numerous phone calls from people against the name change. Hopkins also said she had gotten many calls from folks who said the building was the site of “lots of history” and that the name should remain as it is.
Solomon-Gaines and Threat wondered aloud where all these people were on the day of the public hearing, an event attended by many residents in favor of honoring McCray by putting his name on the building. Threat was suspicious of why others are speaking against it at this late date. Solomon-Gaines, as she did at a previous meeting, recalled how the City Auditorium was a “place of history for black people,” the only place black people could hold major events, like graduations, parties and balls.
Hopkins and Tindall voted against the motion to change the name of the City Auditorium. Threat and Solomon-Gaines voted in favor. Because Davis was not present, Knox had to break the tie; he voted “no.”
The mayor sounded concerned that the recent ordinance change that allows the commission to name buildings after people that are still alive (though they must be at least 65 and have achieved significant recognition locally, statewide or nationwide) could get out of control.
“Where does this stop?” Knox asked. “Will we name this building and that fire station?”
Earlier in the evening, commissioners decided to not set the city’s tax millage rate at the advertised 10.995 mills. They wished to consider raising the rate, voting 2-1 to set the Fiscal Year 2019 rate at a later date. Solomon-Gaines had not arrived at the public hearing in time to vote.
Tax Commissioner Roger Collins was present and warned them about how they could be delaying tax collections by putting off the decision. He also informed them that they may raise the rate to 11.134 mills without it being technically a tax hike.
The city must now schedule three public hearings about a millage rate hike, advertising the meeting for two weeks before commissioners can vote on it.