Kingston city clerk reinstated by council
by Matt Shinall
Feb 04, 2011 | 2507 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After being terminated by Kingston Mayor Dexter Jones earlier this week, City Clerk Michele Jones appealed to the city council at Thursday's special called meeting, which ended in her reinstatement.

The motion was made by Councilman Chuck Wise, seconded by Louise Howell and majority made by Billy Sanders to overturn the termination notice made by Jones on Monday.

A crowd gathered at Kingston City Hall in anticipation of the meeting, along with the addition of Bartow County Sheriff's Office deputies on scene. The crowd, although out of line with hearing procedures at times, was never out of control. The majority of those in attendance were vocal in their support of Michele Jones.

Michele Jones was given the opportunity to present her case, including evidence and witnesses. Among a list of character witnesses was older sister, Gwynn Harris Watkins. She spoke to the turmoil within the city and compared the unrest to that in Egypt.

"Home is where my heart is in the city of Kingston and I love the city of Kingston," Watkins said. "To me, I have seen the city of Kingston go down. Michele has called me in the middle of the night and asked me to pray for her because she can't sleep. I've been to the emergency room with her high blood pressure. I have cried. ... There is so much turmoil going on in this little city of Kingston and we need prayer. It is going to take prayer to turn it around."

Many accounts were made of Michele Jones' level of character. Mayor Jones countered these references with several allegations, which he had listed on her termination notice.

"Sometimes we get caught up in the emotion of these things, but we can't let emotion get a hold of it. It's not about liking somebody, being friends with somebody or all of that, it's about getting the business of this city done," Dexter Jones said. "There are some things that we can't possibly turn a blind eye to because, at the end of the day, I am the person they are going to hold accountable for how this city functions."

Among the reasons cited by the mayor for his decision to fire the city clerk was the taking of an unsecured money bag to her home with city funds, failure to perform the duties of clerk of court, and failure to follow city charter and directions from the mayor.

"That's not the way to run a city government. We've got to have checks and balances," Dexter Jones said. "You've got to keep it in order and you've got to know what you're paying. One of the biggest complaints on our audit is that there is no record-keeping. We don't know what we own, we don't know half the time who we owe, the financial statements are not being filed in a timely fashion and bank deposits are not being made on a timely basis."

The battle between the mayor and city clerk has been ongoing with allegations being made from both sides.

A member of the audience and Kingston resident, Ricky Black, voiced his opinion that strife between the mayor and city clerk may be rooted in personal problems in reference to Dexter Jones' changing city hall locks without providing a key for the city clerk.

"It was blatantly obvious that the mayor had a problem with the city clerk. That a maintenance man would have a key to her office and she couldn't have a key to it, I know deep down that that was wrong," Black said. "It seems like it stemmed from a personal problem, and I hope that I'm wrong about that because bringing personal problems into city matters is unbecoming."

Recent allegations have centered around the order of court records and traffic citations. Stating that as many as 3,000 citations have failed to be filed in the past 10 years, Mayor Jones held Michele Jones responsible for the state of court records being out of compliance.

"That's the part that hurts me the most, is being accused of being something that I know I'm not. ... Every month or every other month there has been an attempt to get rid of Michele Jones, and I am just to the point that I have very little fight," Michele Jones said. "I just want to see the city council do the right thing for the city of Kingston whether I'm a part of it or whether I'm not a part of it."

Matters eventually turned from the attention of Michele Jones to public opinion of Mayor Jones. Members of the audience along with councilman Wise referenced the possibility of a recall petition. Wise added that residents had asked him specifically for the mayor's removal. He also commented on the lack of communication the council has received from the mayor.

"The city of Kingston cannot allow things to occur without correcting or addressing the issues immediately. Some of these issues are going on without the council knowing about it," Wise said. "I am not being notified of these issues or I'm reading it in the newspaper or I'm finding something jammed in my door to make me aware of the issues going on. As me sitting here as a councilman, as a city representative, I feel like I am not being informed by the mayor."

Mayor Jones continued to defend his allegations against the city clerk and his method of governing the city of Kingston.

"Running a city or a municipality like this is difficult because we've got so far to go, we've got a lot of things to do," Dexter Jones said. "I've sat here tonight and been attacked by people I still like and consider my friends, and I know politics is politics but when you're elected to run a city like this, you've got to do your job and you've got to do what's right for the city."

The council also approved the motion of conducting background checks on all employees, current and future.

The Kingston City Council will meet again Monday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at city hall for their February work session.