It was all chaos and disorder Thursday night during the city council meeting in Port Wentworth as city officials bickered amongst each other over allegations of illegal government meetings and the appointment of city employees.
It was standing room only as members of the public and media crammed into the council chambers and spilled into the hallway only for the clerk to storm out in frustration as the public cried for answers to dozens of questions.
The lack of decorum ultimately led to the adjournment of the council meeting without any action taken, but not before council members shouted each other down about respect as the mayor banged his gavel repeatedly.
City officials were flying blind on matters of legality as city attorney Jimmy Coursey resigned from his position Wednesday afternoon.
But among the points of contention Thursday evening were the hiring of interim city administrator Steve Davis, a former state representative, and amendments to the agenda before the meeting even commenced. Council has been divided on the way the hiring took place and both sides have disputed what actually transpired in terms of job advertisement and official council vote. Councilwoman Linda Smith has promised to take the matter to superior court.
Ahead of the prayer and pledge on Thursday night, Smith shared legal opinions from an attorney hired independently by her and Mayor Gary Norton. Her comments were met with disapproval by her fellow council members who refused to agree to her additions. One said the legal
Opinions only reflected Smith’s analysis of events. Smith ultimately dropped her requests for additions to the agenda and asked that official business continue on for the sake of those present.
But the forward movement didn’t last long.
Councilman Thomas Barbee made an effort to amend the council agenda, adding personnel matters as agreed upon by a few members of council who saw it fit to be altered. But Norton said Barbee was out of order.
Mayor Norton suggested a recess for everyone to gather themselves, but no council member agreed. Norton also tried to adjourn the meeting, but council members told him he did not have that authority.
At one point, interim city administrator Steve Davis and Mayor Norton exchanged words, which were inaudible to the public, and pointed their fingers at each other in frustration. Norton has not supported the hiring of Davis on an interim or permanent basis, stating he does not have the qualifications to do the job.
Councilman Barbee again tried to amend the agenda to add acceptance of the city attorney’s resignation, hiring of the full-time administrator, and replacement of the public comment portion to the end of the meeting, but as Councilman Mark Stephens seconded, Mayor Norton ruled him or of order. Both Barbee and Stephens moved for Norton to be removed from his post overseeing the meeting for “failing to act,” which was again met with banging of the gavel by Norton.
The room started to clear as citizen Jodi Hawks rose to address members of be public. He was on the agenda to address the council during a public comment portion that would never come. But Hawks still pressed the interim city administrator about his termination of former police chief Matt Libby who was fired by Davis last week. Hawks asked Davis why he took Libby’s computer and asked IT experts to download information off of it when Davis was not qualified or certified to access the information. Davis did not answer Hawks as he gathered his belongings and left the meeting room to boos from the public.
All in all, the meeting lasted a little more than thirty minutes, but no official business was conducted.
More clips of the chaos are below: