VILLA RICA, Ga. - The man in charge of helping find a new city manager for Villa Rica is himself out of a job after allegations surfaced he was systematically trashing applications of candidates because they were black or had a military background.
This all came to light after an Open Records request from the FOX 5 I-Team.
Michael Jackson was hired in early March as interim Villa Rica city manager. He was not a candidate for the permanent job. One of his duties was to screen applications as they came in for the open city manager position.
"We will give the final group to the council for their interview process and their decisions," Jackson explained to council members at a March 7 meeting.
But that same day, according to documents obtained by the FOX 5 I-Team, Jackson told Villa Rica human resources director Stephanie Rooks that "Villa Rica was not ready for a black city manager and did not want to get their hopes up by interviewing them."
The documents are handwritten notes Ms. Rooks took that she says summarizes her conversations with Jackson.
March 21st - Jackson "handed an application back to me, with a yellow sticky note w/ No! Written on it, when it was handed back, he made the comment that he was black."
She says he also wanted to screen out all "military applicants due to the fact that, in his experience they were all abrupt and too stringent."
The Human Resources director noted that Jackson was "conducting internet research or scanning resumes to determine race or veteran status through professional experience or affiliations."
"I remember chills going down my back thinking how could this happen?" admitted Villa Rica mayor Jeff Reese.
Mayor Reese presides over a town of 14,000. More than a third of the population is black.
"Is Villa Rica ready for a black city manager?" I asked him.
After learning about our Open Records request, Mayor Reese called Jackson into his office concerned about the black city manager comments.
"I said, did you say it?" Reese recounted. "And he said, well, I answered a question but yes, I said it."
"Where in the world would he get the idea that Villa Rica is not ready for a black city manager?" I asked the mayor.
"I'm not really sure," he replied. "I wish, in hindsight, I wished I'd asked the question. He said, well Mr. Mayor. I think I'm going to just go ahead and resign and go play golf."
And that's what he did. When we tried reaching Mike Jackson, he emailed back saying he'd been at the golf course.
He denied dismissing anyone with a military background and said the idea of Villa Rica not being ready for a black city manager came not from him, but from Human Resources director Stephanie Rooks. Jackson claims the mayor even told him as he was leaving city hall on his final day, "Mike, it is clear to me that you have been set up by Stephanie." The mayor told me that quote is not true because that is not what he thinks.
Stephanie Rooks said she was "appalled" by Jackson's allegations against her. She said Jackson asked her whether the city was ready for a black city manager and she declined to answer, thinking the question itself was inappropriate. She said three qualified city manager candidates were excluded by Jackson because they were black.
"They were thrown in a pile over there just like dirty rags," criticized Shirley Marchman, the only African-American on the Villa Rica city council. "Just throw them away. We don't need them."
Mike Jackson came to Villa Rica highly recommended by city attorney David Mecklin, teaching for years at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.
"Sometimes it's best to get some outside help in doing things like this," explained Marchman.
"But he was from the outside," I pointed out.
"I know but he was the wrong outside," she replied. "I'm not one of those that say hire black because they're black. Just because. But if they are qualified, I think they should be given the chance of everybody else."
The search continues. Last week council members received 14 applications that met all their criteria for a city manager. Race is not on that list.
"Quite frankly, if they're from Mars I really don't care," Mayor Reese stressed. "I just want a qualified candidate to come to us and help us lead this city forward."
Human resources notes regarding Villa Rica City Manager hiring:
Mike Jackson's response to allegations: