Fuller’s Oct. 9 decision that he could not rule on the case due to an error in how the case was filed essentially upheld the May vote by the city council, and Grogan was removed that same day.
The city council voted 3-1 on May 15 to remove Grogan from office after an investigation into allegations that Grogan had misused city funds. City council members Caleb Phillips, Jason Power and Angie Smith voted for the removal; council member Mike Sosebee voted against it.
The appeal, filed June 14, was dismissed after Grogan’s lawyer, Steve Leibel, filed the appeal de novo, or asked for a new trial. The judge found that the correct form for appeal would be through writ of certiorari, which would have the judge review the decision of the lower court, in this case the council.
Grogan said in the statement Monday night that though he is not pleased with the outcome of the appeal, he thinks it is important to acknowledge that the ruling did not side with the council’s decision but was “simply a technicality on a complicated legal situation.”
He said his decision to no longer seek legal counsel will mean no more taxpayer money will be spent on the issue.
“My heart still lies in serving the citizens of Dawsonville and I believe ultimately it's their decision not some random judges to decide,” Grogan said. “So instead of continuing this fight through this legal process and to prevent the city council from spending any more taxpayer funds frivolously on legal fees, I'm here to take the highroad and say, ‘let’s stop this now’ and let's put this back to the voters.”
Two members of the city council, Phillips and Smith, have stood by their decision to vote the mayor out, and sent in a letter Tuesday morning without knowledge of Grogan’s announcement.
Due to time constraints, Grogan’s statement and Phillips’ and Smith’s letter have been included below in full.
Former Mayor James Grogan: Statement sent Oct. 30, 2017
Obviously, I'm not pleased with the outcome or decision of the judge recently, however I think it's very important to note that this ruling did not side with city council’s decision and their actions, it was simply a technicality on a complicated legal situation, that has never happened before in the state of Georgia.
My heart still lies in serving the citizens of Dawsonville and I believe ultimately it's their decision not some random judges to decide. So instead of continuing this fight through this legal process and to prevent the City Council from spending any more of your taxpayer funds frivolously on legal fees, I'm here to take the highroad and say, "LET’S STOP THIS NOW" and let's put this back to the voters.
This morning, I have stopped my appeal and I'm going to rerun in the next election cycle in March to become your Mayor once again and serve you with all my heart. I've been committed to you for many years and we have seen great things happening in the city under my leadership.
So instead of three power-hungry council members and a random judge deciding the direction our city should take, and whether I should continue to serve you, I have decided to put the decision back where it belongs, with the citizens of Dawsonville. You and only you will decide whether I should be allowed to continue being your leader, so please vote for James Grogan, Mayor 2018.
Council members Angie Smith and Caleb Phillips: Letter sent Oct. 31, 2017
On October 9, Judge Fuller dismissed James Grogan’s appeal to the Superior Court from his removal from the office of Mayor by the City Council and granted to the City summary judgment on the claims raised by Mr. Grogan. In essence, this ruling by the Judge upheld the action of the Council when we held a hearing over charges of wrongdoing against Mr. Grogan in his role as now the former Mayor of our City. For that ruling by the Judge, we are pleased. We have much work to do in the City of Dawsonville and are eager to get back to that work.
However, we as a City Council have been accused of playing politics in this matter when all we were trying to do was our job and look out for the citizens of our City. People talk about the Mayor being elected and question how the Council, has the right to remove him. The answer is quite simple: it is provided for in the City Charter. We were ALL elected to do a job. One of our jobs as a Council is to have oversight on the way things are handled at City Hall and to uphold the City Charter. We suspect that many of those accusing us have never read the Charter and have never read the detailed reports that formed the basis for Mr. Grogan’s removal. The purpose of this open letter is to provide an overview of both and to urge our citizens to find out the facts from the real source rather than from Facebook or some other social media outlet.
The evidence presented to the City Council at a hearing attended by Mr. Grogan and his lawyer showed that he violated our City Code and Charter in 6 different areas on multiple occasions on multiple dates. Those 6 areas of violations were Rezoning Fees, Water Rates, Charitable donations, Credit Card usage, Payment for Meetings, and Purchase of Alcohol. A short summary of those violations as presented by an independent investigation is as follows. Mayor Grogan authorized lower Rezoning fees than set forth by our ordinance; some as low as $83.33 for certain people instead of the required $250 each. This was a violation of our Code and Charter. Water rates were reduced by Mayor Grogan for a local business to the much lower residential rate in violation of our Code and Charter. Mayor Grogan authorized numerous charitable donations including for golf tournaments that he played in that were worthy causes, nonetheless, they were in violation of not only our Code and Charter, but also state law.
Mayor Grogan used the City credit card for alcohol, gas and family expenses in violation of our Code and Charter. Mayor Grogan submitted and approved payments to himself for meetings that had not been pre-approved for compensation by the Council in violation of our Code and Charter. Mayor Grogan purchased alcohol for use as door prizes at a dinner without Council approval in violation of our Code and Charter. The detail on all of these violations is set in the record of what was presented to us as a Council on May 15, 2017 in a hearing where Mr. Grogan was present and represented by his attorney. Mr. Grogan chose not to testify to rebut these facts.
Here are some examples of the evidence that was presented to us that most people criticizing us don’t know. He paid himself to go to a Republican Party Picnic, the Moonshine Festival, the Beer and Music Festival, and other public events like an annual United Way BBQ that was supposed to raise money for a worthy cause. This Mayor paid himself to go to a political campaign fundraiser for another candidate in another political race. This Mayor, on occasion, met with Georgia Power representatives, Lanier Tech representatives, and other local organizations about day to day city business and paid himself an extra $100 each time. He played in several golf tournaments on the taxpayer’s dollar. Not only that, but he paid for others to play on the City of Dawsonville’s team with him that were in no way affiliated with the city. So, instead of the city paying $100 - $150 dollars per tournament for him to participate individually, we paid $500 for a team to let his friends piggyback on the taxpayer’s dime. All of these payments are in addition to the $2,000 per month salary the Mayor receives for doing his job. While he did have the authority as Mayor to go and represent the city, he did not get prior approval for reimbursement for these meetings and outings from the City Council before paying himself for them.
Critics of this Council will say that the total City funds misspent or lost by Mayor Grogan (in excess of $20,000) wasn’t enough money to justify removing Mr. Grogan from the office of Mayor or that the offenses don’t seem that bad. Our questions to those critics are this, “How bad is too bad?” Do we have to let hundreds of thousands of dollars slip through before we take action? Is it ok if a few benefit from back door deals as long as it isn’t major corporations or the family in town that everyone loves to hate? If we keep the wrongdoing on the “small scale” is that ok? If that is where we are in America today, then we have totally lost our way.
This Council has done EVERYTHING in our power to support you, the citizen, and look out for your interests. And, we have done it the right way – with honesty and integrity. We, as a Council, do not believe that we have to give special favors, make back-room deals, or take money we weren’t approved for to do our jobs.
The decision to step in and remove Mayor Grogan was a weighty one that none of us came to easily. But, the fact of the matter is, we had to step in and put an end to the misuse of funds and the malfeasance in office. We can only hope that you as the citizens of Dawsonville can now at least understand things from our point of view and help us to move forward for the betterment of our City.
Dawsonville City Council Members Angie Smith and Caleb Phillips