Former Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan was court-ordered last Thursday to pay $25,060.88 back to the city following a court hearing held earlier in the week. The amount represents the salary and benefits Grogan received last year while appealing his termination by the city council.
The issue of whether Grogan will have to reimburse the city for legal expenses incurred in the court battle over his former job has not yet been resolved.
Grogan, 75, was voted out of office by a 3-1 vote of city council May 15, 2017.
Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller denied Grogan’s appeal because it was “procedurally invalid” and granted summary judgement to the city in October.
In January, a hearing was held on the city’s motion to recover the salary paid to Grogan and lawyers’ fees incurred during the five months it took for his appeal to be resolved.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the amount of taxpayer money the city had spent fighting Grogan’s appeal amounted to $60,000 paid to the city attorney as well as $10,000 paid to Webb, Tanner & Powell to represent the city council.
$30,000 of that was spent in pursuit of Grogan's salary and legal fees once the appeal was denied.
According to City Attorney Dana Miles, the city council will have to decide whether to pursue the lawyers’ fees. He said Monday that if it does, Grogan would then be entitled to a jury trial, further prolonging the process.
Steven Leibel, Grogan’s attorney, said Friday that he “looked forward to a jury trial before the citizens of Dawson County which will vindicate the mayor in this entire matter.”
Once the case is completed and a final judgment entered, assuming Grogan doesn’t appeal it, the $25,060.88 in salary Grogan was ordered to pay can be collected as the law allows, Miles said.
“We may have lost the
battle but we have not lost the war,” Grogan said Monday.
“The citizens of Dawsonville are smart and can see through this ruse. I am working hard for this city as I have always done and will continue to do.”
Grogan was voted out of office after the city council initiated an investigation into alleged misuse of city funds.
The council hired attorney Abbott Hayes of Gainesville in April of 2017 to investigate Grogan’s actions, and Hayes presented his findings before the council and local attorney and city judge Ronald Reemsnyder on May 15.
Hayes presented a report and 500 pages of supporting documents and alleged that Grogan had violated the city charter, which made him subject to removal from office.
Former council member Angie Smith, as well as current council members Caleb Phillips and Jason Power, voted to remove Grogan from office; former council member Mike Sosebee voted against the move.
The documents from Hayes’ investigation were recently handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation by Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson.
Johnson received the documents as well as other information from the city council Feb.7, two days after a motion made by Council Member Stephen Tolson to report “financial discrepancies that occurred around the former mayor’s administration” to law enforcement.
The motion and unanimous vote that followed were the fruits of a presentation by the city’s new finance administrator, Hayden Wiggins, in executive session Feb. 5.
Wiggins had discovered the alleged discrepancies while reviewing the city’s financial documents, and the council voted to turn over any related documents as well as those from the prior investigation “in the interest of full transparency,” according to Tolson.
Wiggins worked for the city’s external auditing firm, Alexander, Almand and Bangs, until he was hired by the city in October of last year.
The amount of money involved in the investigation has not been released.
Johnson said Friday that he met with officials from the GBI on Thursday to hand over the documents. He said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the GBI had notified his office they would not be taking the case, citing a conflict.
The Dawson County Sheriff's Office will be investigating the case, he said.
Grogan is running for election to regain the mayor seat, an election which will be held on Tuesday. He is running against current acting Mayor Mike Eason, who retired in 2002 from a 30-year career as a special agent at the GBI.
On Feb. 12, Leibel filed a motion to dismiss the city’s claim to recover the salary and benefits based on the Anti-SLAPP statute, stating that Grogan had a first amendment right to appeal the city council’s decision to remove him and that the city’s investigation into potential criminal activity was politically motivated.
Fuller denied the motion in his March 8 ruling, and Miles said the city is entitled to seek the attorneys’ fees incurred since the motion was filed, which amounts to approximately $10,000 out of the $70,000 total.
A hearing for the city to collect those fees will be held before Fuller at a later date.