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City manager has time to appeal new board’s first action

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POSTED: January 7, 2012 8:00 a.m.
Crissie Elrick/

State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, right, addresses the crowd Tuesday before swearing in new Richmond Hill City Council members John Fesperman and Jan Bass during the council meeting in City Hall. The new council's first action was to relieve Mike Melton of his duties as city manager.

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Tuesday brought several changes to the city of Richmond Hill as two new council members took office and a contract with city manager Mike Melton was terminated.
After serving the city of Richmond Hill for 15 years, the council voted 3-1 during its regular meeting in City Hall to relieve Melton of his municipal duties. Newly sworn-in council members Jan Bass and John Fesperman voted in favor with Councilman Van Hunter to terminate Melton’s contract.
Councilman Russ Carpenter cast they nay vote, citing Melton’s dedication to the city as a reason not to let him go.
“Mike Melton is the most efficient, dedicated person that I have ever worked with,” Carpenter said Thursday. “He is part of the reason that Richmond Hill has weathered the recent economic downturn so well.”
The action came after the council came out of a closed session held to discuss personnel matters. Hunter read two resolutions and asked the council to adopt both in the form of a motion.
The first resolution declared the contract with Melton null and void because it was adopted by a previous council in 2006 and conflicted with revisions to the city’s charter. Leamon Holliday of Savannah-based Bouhan, Williams and Levy law firm served as special counsel regarding the matter and explained after the meeting that the charter states a city manager shall be hired for an “indefinite term.”
Holliday said the council in 2006 approved a five-year contract with Melton, which he described as a “definite term” and the “exact opposite” of the charter, which led him to believe the agreement was in violation with the charter.
The second resolution stated a new city manager would provide an opportunity for added services to the community and city
“A new city manager will be more responsive to the community and the council, and that accordingly it is appropriate to terminate the employment of the current city manager,” Hunter read from the resolution Tuesday.
Holliday also explained last week that the council was required to give Melton a reason for the termination, although it didn’t necessarily have to be for something he’d done wrong.
“From my viewpoint, I didn’t interpret the council’s actions as a remediation of Mr. Melton,” Holliday said. “They just want to try something different.”
Melton made a brief statement to the council before excusing himself from the meeting Tuesday.
“I would like to state for the record that it has been my pleasure to serve the people of Richmond Hill the past 15 years,” he said. “I am very proud of my accomplishments during that time. But more importantly it has been my honor to work with and lead the city employees of Richmond Hill. Thank you. With that I will excuse myself.”
But although the council voted to terminate the contract, that doesn’t mean it is finished. Currently, Melton is suspended with pay but has the opportunity to appeal the council’s decision if he so chooses, Fowler said.
Fowler said Thursday that after Melton receives official paperwork from the city, he has five days to appeal the council’s decision. He added the city does not plan to appoint anyone to fill the vacancy until Melton’s termination is final.

Read more in the Jan. 7 edition of the News.

 

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