2018-03-07 / Front Page

Lawsuits threatened at city council, mayor under scrutiny again


Turmoil dominated Waynesboro City Council’s meeting on Monday night.

Before they could make it into their scheduled executive session to discuss potential litigation at the tail end of the meeting, a local man warned officials he’d be pressing charges against them himself.

Leon Bynes, a Waynesboro resident who is a fixture in the city council chamber, asked for a spot on the agenda so he could inquire why the city has not provided him with information he requested through the Open Records Act back in December 2017. “It’s been three months since my request was submitted,” he said, adding that if the city could not furnish the requested documents he would like an official statement on city letterhead declaring why they couldn’t. “I’m putting you all on notice,” he said. “I intend to file a lawsuit. I think city council has overstepped boundaries and tried to suspend law.”

In his December request to city manager Jerry Coalson, Bynes requested copies of any documents or information associated with travel taken by Waynesboro Mayor Greg Carswell from Oct. 6-14, 2017.

In an email chain dated March 1, Coalson informed the mayor that Bynes had filed an agenda item request form in order to address council about the trip information not being provided. He wrote to Carswell, “I have no other records on this trip. Do you have any other records or information?” to which the mayor responded, “No I don’t.”

Back in November, questions about the still unknown trip came about when, at the request of council, Coalson was asked to investigate the mayor’s spending habits. Travel expenses totaling $111 were charged to the city’s credit card, and according to Coalson’s report, the mayor says someone else funded the trip, in which other officials from the Southeast were in attendance, and the donor would be refunding baggage claim and airport parking fees he charged to the city. “She told me they had already mailed the check … they paid for everything, hotel, food and flight,” the mayor said in a Nov. 1 email to Coalson. He also said he had to send his receipt for the luggage to “them” because the airline did not allow payment in advance. A receipt for $25, from the mayor’s city credit card, shows a payment of $25 made in San Francisco, Calif., on Oct. 12, just before 5 a.m.

On Monday night, Bynes went on to say that he didn’t think the City of Waynesboro was being represented properly and that city council should have done something about the violations of state law and city ordinances and policies Carswell had committed and which were confirmed last November. Carswell did not address Bynes during Monday’s meeting, instead responding to Coalson, “You’ve provided what he asked for” before moving on to the next item on the agenda.

“The mayor is a criminal,” Bynes later told The True Citizen, “and there is no way he will get out of this.”

Following that November meeting, Carswell paid back more than $4,000 for various expenses Coalson’s report found to not be city-related.

Carswell remained under the microscope as the meeting continued. Vice mayor Brenda Lewis had also requested to be on the agenda so that she could voice concern over the mayor’s new committee appointments, specifically the removal of herself and councilman Willie Williams from the public safety committee.

“He is flip flopping and changing committees without discussing this with any of us,” she said, adding that there is no balance between the wards if there is no representation from Ward 3 on the committee. “I know that these decisions serve the pleasure of the mayor, but who does the mayor serve? Out of all fairness, [balance] should override your pleasure, whatever that is.”

Carswell responded that there was no objection when he’d made these same types of changes last year. “At the end of the day, it is my pleasure … I will continue changing, not flip flopping, in order to continue making improvements.”

While he commended Lewis for doing a good job in her various leadership roles, discussion got heated between the pair as Carswell, gavel in hand, told Lewis if she continued interrupting him, he would fine her.

“I’m just going to say this. I feel like this was retaliation for me not voting to outsource our police services,” she said. “We need to think about the ethics behind this.”

As the mayor attempted to move along with the meeting, Lewis said, “You cannot obstruct me from talking,” and the city attorney advised she needed to stay on point with the topic.

Carswell reminded everyone that committee meetings are open to the public and that all wards are invited to attend them. “This is not a retaliation. If it were, I’d have changed the committees back then,” he said. “It is what it is, and we are going to move on.”

Following an executive session that lasted approximately half an hour, council opened back up to the public and took no further actions after discussing the potential litigation, which was not related to Bynes’ declaration earlier in the meeting.

Lewis, who normally sits next to the mayor, had also moved several seats down from him.

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