February 12, 2021 – By a vote of only 5 to 4, the Chatham County Commissioners voted to appoint former County Commissioner Tabitha Odell to the Chatham Area Transit Board (CAT), and to name Peter Liakakis as an “Emeritas” member of the CAT Board of Directors.
Opposing her appointment were commissioners Dean Kicklighter, Tanya Milton, Adot Whitley and Larry Rivers. Voting in support were Chairman Chester Ellis, Kenneth Adams, Bobby Lockett, Helen Stone and Pat Farrell.
Odell was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former County Commissioner Chairman Pete Liakakis. However, Liakakis has not resigned from his term – no resignation letter has been sent to CAT – and his term does not end until June 30, 2021.
CAT is a State of Georgia authority, and a number of the Commissioners state that they do not believe that they have the authority to remove him. The legislation which created the authority states that the CAT Board can not remove a member unless an individual fails to attend four meetings in a row, which has not occurred.
Additionally, the motion to appoint Odell included the provision that the appointment be backdated to January 15, the date of a controversial letter signed by Chester Ellis, informing Odell that she had been appointed to CAT.
On January 26, Odell attended the CAT monthly board meeting, and seconded the motion of CAT Board member Helen Stone to fire CAT’s CEO Bacarra Mauldin.
Mauldin has taken legal action to be re-instated, and has been termed a “whistleblower,” according to her attorney, for information she uncovered during her seven months of employment as CEO relating to the misuse of Federal CARES Act funds by the CAT Board.
One of the longest serving Commissioners, Dean Kicklighter, states that he voted against the appointment for two key reasons.
“I have nothing against Tabitha, but I don’t think it’s legal to backdate an appointment … that would mean that we could back date an appointment of me or you 20 years ago to the CAT board. I disagree with the County Attorney saying it can be done,” stated Kicklighter, in an interview following the meeting Friday morning.
And, he added that he also voted ‘No’ because he does think that the Commissioners have the authority to end Liakakis’ term, “and create an Emeritas position on CAT. It’s an Authority. We don’t have that ability.”
January 15 was the date, during an executive session, that appointing Ms. Odell to CAT was discussed in an executive session. Kicklighter was not at the meeting due to a broken foot, but spoke to other commissioners after the meeting who told him about the discussion that had occurred. He agrees that any votes following an executive session must be taken in public, returning to the Commissioners’ Chamber, and that the fact that they would return to public session should be on the official Agenda of their meetings.