February 3, 2021 - The Chatham County Attorney's Office filed a response, dated Feb. 2, to the Georgia Attorney General's inquiry on whether the Commissioners appointed Commissioner Tabitha Odell to the Chatham Area Transit (CAT) board on Jan. 15. It is disappointing at best in its attempt at deflection from the facts surrounding the appointment.
Commission Chairman Chester Ellis sent a letter to Odell and the CAT board that day, stating that she had been appointed by a vote of the Commissioners to the board. She therefore was able to attend CAT’s meeting on Jan. 26, participate in their executive session, receive internal documents, and second the motion by Commissioner Helen Stone to fire CAT CEO Bacarra Mauldin at CAT’s meeting.
Ellis understood the need to get the letter out that day, as for some reason there was a rush to fire Mauldin.
The CAT Board is working to announce a Special Called Meeting to address the attorney’s demands, but now must also address the fact that they only have eight members, and the action on Jan. 26 would appear to not be valid.
Meanwhile, Mauldin’s attorney has termed her a “whistleblower” under Georgia law, and has demanded her immediate reinstatement.
Following the surprise firing of Mauldin, I, along with other members of the local media made inquiries about how Odell could have been appointed on Jan. 15, when the item was not on the Agenda of the Commissioner’s public meeting.
In a routine press inquiry I made to Public Information Director for Chatham County, Catherine Glasby, I asked if the vote was made “in public.” She called back within the hour to confirm that, “Yes,” the Commissioners had “opened the door (of the green room) after the executive session and made a 'public vote.'" Someone had instructed her to respond to press inquiries in that manner, but the Savannah Business Journal has not received a confirmation on who told Glasby to say that.
Further, in a subsequent interview with Commissioner Stone, she too said that they HAD voted to appoint Odell by “opening the door after the executive session.”
However, I have heard from two members of the Commission that the appointment of Odell was discussed in an executive session that day but never voted on. They have asked not to be identified as they were, in effect, calling the Chairman and Commissioner Helen Stone liars, but I am grateful for their honesty.
Atty. Jonathan Hart’s letter to the Attorney General’s office states that the letter sent to Odell was a clerical mistake – a proforma letter drafted and dated Jan. 15 because apparently someone had omnisciente vision that Odell would be nominated, seconded and approved for a third term on the CAT Board at the Commissioners next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 12.
To think that we, the public, believe that any of this is above board is ridiculous and insulting.
Clearly, the CAT board only has eight members at this time. Their action on Jan. 26, on a motion by Helen Stone and second by Odell to fire Mauldin is therefore invalid.
Knowing that the vote to appoint Odell was at best held in executive session, and at worst never held at all, Helen Stone should resign from the CAT Board. The public can decide the next time she seeks re-election about her fitness for office.