DEMOREST, Ga. - In Demorest, the stage was set for a scheduled city council meeting. Protestors were gathering, ready to be heard. The special called meeting followed a controversial firing. It seems a police officer criticized the city's new trash cans on Facebook.
Mayor Rick Austin told us the city manager ordered police chief Robin Krockum to punish the officer. The chief refused, so the city manager fired him. And that firing of a popular chief upset a lot of citizens.
"At the end of the day this boils down to a first amendment issue," said Mayor Austin.
Austin told us the special called meeting was illegal. Not advertised properly. he was concerned about whether citizens could speak out, and even worried that not everyone would be allowed inside, because of space and the social distancing.
The solution? Mayor Austin rented a stage for the council, told citizens to use social distancing, and gather in the parking lot, hoping the meeting would take place out in the open. Literally.
"If you can do it behind those doors, let's do it out here in front of those doors, let's engender and build that public trust and let's move the city forward,"
But that didn't happen.
The city manager and at least one council person have been behind these doors for well over a half an hour. No one still knows what's going to happen
So people watched and waited. And waited. As the sun slowly set, the doors stayed locked. Then a Facebook post popped up. Seems the meeting had been canceled. because Mayor Austin and the city attorney refused to join the city manager inside.
As he read the Facebook post, Mayor Austin told me he didn't attend because he felt it was an illegal meeting.
"All they got to do is walk out of those doors, step out here and have a public meeting and get this thing done," said Mayor Austin.
All over? Not by a long shot. When The city leaders refused to come outside and face those protestors, the protestors ordered pizza and settled in.
So, they ate and waited some more. Someone on the inside even asked for state troopers to escort them to their car. That didn't happen.
Finally, an hour and a half later, the city manager, Kim Simonds emerged. She blamed it all on the Mayor and city attorney. Everyone who wanted to fight the firing of the police chief was left with more business and pizza to tend to.
Two hours before our report aired, Ms. Simonds wrote to me to say:
"There was NO closed-door meeting last night. The meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum. I should not and cannot comment on personnel issues. I can, however, say that Chief Krockum WAS NOT terminated for his refusal to discipline his officer. Our Mayor has meticulously cultivated a culture of organizational dysfunction that has rendered some city departments unmanageable. We are working hard to correct that and unfortunately in that process, hard decisions must be made."
At no time was the public invited into the meeting, even after it began. At times throughout the evening, the door to the meeting room was locked. No one in attendance outside was told anything. I did not see any agenda posted at the meeting place.