by Emily Lewy
It appears that the Dahlonega City Council jumped the gun in making charges against a fellow council member without first getting all the facts. More than six weeks after a public statement alleging improprieties, they still have not charged him with any specific act of wrong doing. What they have done is create an atmosphere of intimidation and they have made disparaging remarks in public against their fellow member.
By allowing Councilman Ariemma to be tried and convicted in the newspaper, council members have done what they accuse him of doing. An ordinary man, and especially a guilty man, could be expected to consider a request for his resignation a threat when it immediately followed a public accusation. Such a tactic might work on some ordinary elected official, but Johnny Ariemma is not ordinary. He is as principled and straight an arrow as anybody you will ever find. Those fellows should have known that he would not be bullied; but then, they are not used to a man like Johnny.
Following an Executive Session during the December 6, 2010 regular meeting, Councilman Gerald Lord made a motion that the City adopt a Resolution instituting a process for removing Councilmember Johnny Ariemma from office. Motion was seconded by Ralph Prescott and approved by all members present.
Lord prefaced the motion with the following statement:
“It is clear that the citizens of Dahlonega have the right to elect officials for this City Council, and a vote for any Council Member is an expression of the will of our citizens, and any action adverse to an elected member of this body is not an act to be considered without significant cause,
Nevertheless, these are exceptional circumstances. The Council must see that the affairs of the City are run in a manner that conforms with the law. As elected officials, we are responsible for ensuring protection of the City workforce through policy decisions fairly and equitably made. It is not possible for the morale of the city’s work force to be maintained and City business accomplished in an atmosphere of intimidation, disparaging remarks, and threats made by elected officials.
Further, Georgia law provides protection to officers and employees who bring matters such as those raised by Mr. Martin to the Council’s attention. We are as a body charged with making a decision as to the appropriate course of action. We have an investigation, but we need to hear from Councilmember Ariemma.
I believe the problems identified in the report by Jennifer Keaton, if such problems are found to truly exist, are not correctible.”
After the vote, City Attorney, Doug Parks stated:
“I want to ensure that everyone understands that this motion does not have the effect of removing Councilman Ariemma from the Council. All it does is initiate proceedings whereby a determination can be made whether to remove him. No decision has been made to remove anybody. No decision will be made until after a full hearing (to be scheduled).
Unless or until that happens, he will continue to serve as a member of the Council, with all privileges associated with the position.”
Voters need to take a close look at the facts:
- Councilman Lord made the motion after acknowledging that the Council needed to hear from Councilman Ariemma. You see, Ariemma had been illegally denied access to the Executive Session even though he is a member of the council. It appears, based on Lord’s statement, that the Council took action without allowing Ariemma to respond to charges. The motion was made to begin a process for removing him without knowing whether the “problems are found to truly exist.”
- Later that evening, Mayor McCullough called Ariemma at home and asked for his resignation from the Council. Ariemma denied any wrongdoing adding that he would be able to prove his innocence.
- Six weeks after this nightmare began, Ariemma has been publicly tried and convicted by news reports of alleged intimidation and threats; yet, he has received no notice of specific charges to which he could respond.
The simple fact is that the city council jumped the gun with their charges. They did not bother to get Johnny’s side of the story. When he balked at resigning like a “good little fellow,” they were stuck with having to prove their case against a man who says he can prove that every allegation he has heard so far is not true.
The Council, itself, now appears to be guilty of creating an atmosphere of intimidation and making disparaging remarks and threats against their fellow councilman, the very charges they publicly alleged against Johnny.
I agree with Councilman Lord, “It is not possible for the morale of the city’s work force to be maintained and City business accomplished in an atmosphere of intimidation, disparaging remarks, and threats made by elected officials.”
If the Council cannot prove their allegations against Ariemma, the Mayor and council members who voted for the charges must resign. Any employee responsible for abusing the truth should be fired. The morale of the city’s work force is at stake.
The public must find out exactly who is doing what to whom. The credibility of our government is at stake. We must not allow elected officials to publicly disparage one another, threaten and create an atmosphere of intimidation that makes it difficult to carry out their responsibilities. Many potentially great candidates for public office refuse to get involved because they consider politics a dirty business. We must demand that all elected officials perform in the most honorable way if we are to ever get better candidates.
The way it is looking, Dahlonega City Council members ought to be ashamed of themselves. If we fail to demand accountability, we, the voters, will need to be ashamed.