According to her personnel file, Dawsonville’s highest non-elected official was disciplined by the mayor this spring, nearly three months before she was dismissed.
City Clerk Kim Cornelison was fired Aug. 16 following a work session and special called meeting by the city council. The vote was 3-0, with councilmen attributing the termination to ongoing issues within the office. Mayor pro-tem
Calvin Byrd did not vote. Mayor Joe Lane Cox was absent due to illness.
The personnel file, a copy of which the Dawson Community News obtained through an open records request, reveals that Cornelison was stripped of her city administrator title on May 24.
Despite the demotion, her annual salary had remained unchanged at $54,951.
While the title of city clerk is a council appointment, Cornelison’s “secondary position” as city administrator came directly under the mayor’s supervision, according to City Attorney Dana Miles.
“The mayor has the responsibility for managing all employees and can hire and fire without council approval,” Miles said. “The exception to that is the clerk’s position, which is appointed by the council annually.”
Miles said because there was no formal vote required to demote her, the matter was discussed in executive, or closed, session.
Discussion of personnel matters in closed session is permitted in government meetings, while formal votes must be made in public.
The termination last week required a vote, Miles said.
Cornelison addressed her dismissal Monday in a statement e-mailed to the Dawson Community News.
In it, she wrote that she regretted “a personality conflict between myself and newer council members resulted in my termination, however the people who know me know that I have always had the city and its citizens best interests in my heart.”
According to a May 24 “counseling statement,” which described the reasons for the demotion, Cornelison was cited for her dealings with the media, employee relations and failing to keep the mayor “apprised of issues.”
The document was signed by Cornelison and Mayor Cox.
According to the document, Cornelison had been “warned orally by Mayor Cox about speaking to the media on issues involving potential or pending litigation.”
Specifically, the document pointed to the “dispute between the city and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.”
Both parties are involved in a disagreement over water service for a business on the county’s west end.
The counseling statement for Cornelison also addressed her interaction with other city employees.
According to the document, “Kim needs to wait and be asked for help by employees before stepping in to assist them in order to avoid being perceived as being aggressive.”
Further items outlined included communications with the mayor.
“Kim needs to clear everything with the mayor,” the document stated. “She is his assistant and needs to keep the mayor fully apprised of issues that are brought to her attention.”
Cornelison did not attend the Aug. 16 meeting.
Following Cornelison’s termination, the council unanimously approved the appointment of Bonnie Warne, city zoning administrator, as acting clerk until the position is filled with a permanent replacement.
Following the vote, councilman James Grogan said the decision had come “over a period of time.”
Byrd echoed the remarks.
According to her statement, Cornelison does not plan to appeal the termination.
“I can honestly say that I wish only the best for the mayor and the staff as it has been my privilege to work with each of them,” she wrote. “I am thankful for the experience of serving as city clerk and for the opportunity to serve our citizens.”
According to Miles, Cornelison could have chosen to appeal the termination.
“But if she did, she would give up the severance package that she negotiated with Mayor Cox,” Miles said.
Cornelison’s termination comes with two weeks of salary per year of service to Dawsonville. She had been the city clerk since September 2004.
She was elevated from interim clerk in 2004, when the city council chose to replace former clerk Betty Cloer.