Attorney General dismisses abuse of power complaint

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A complaint filed with the state Attorney General's Office will not be reviewed further, but it isn't stopping City of Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas from taking the complaint elsewhere.

Monday, Thomas filed a complaint with State Attorney General Sam Olens with language suggesting that it could be against Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson.

The complaint stems from what Thomas calls an "abuse of power" and "violation of city charter".

The attorney general's office told WTOC Wednesday morning, the complaint is out of their jurisdiction and would be a matter for the Chatham County District Attorney.

There was a concern the full complaint was not receieved, but a representative for the AG's office says the full complaint was re-submitted and received Tuesday, but their opinion stands.

"I will not let this die. This was an abuse of power and a serious violation of city charter," Thomas told WTOC Wednesday.

Thomas now plans on taking the complaint to the Chatham County District Attorney's office.

In his complaint, Thomas says:

It is my understanding that the Chief was ordered from the top to conduct this inquiry or investigation.

More discomforting is the fact that I believe this was being sanctioned by the highest elected office in Savannah without notification to the members of council – or at least to some members of council. That being the case, it is a clear violation of the city's Charter Section 3-115 that states: "….no orders shall be given by the Mayor or any Alderman to any subordinates of the city manager either publicly or privately, directly or indirectly."

Furthermore, regardless of who ordered the inquiry or investigation, whether it be the Police Chief (which I seriously doubt), the Mayor, or the Acting City Manager, it is clearly an abuse of office to sanction a modern day 'witchhunt' . This matter is disturbing on many fronts and I believe the public could be in harm's way if investigations are randomly ordered on citizens or employees that may differ with elected officials or bureaucrats in high offices. The fact that open witch hunts are being conducted at the direction of anyone in local government smacks of cronyism and corruption. The fact that at least two employees were subject to this treatment before the inquiry or investigation was made public is disturbing."

It is also my belief that the Chief would not have undertaken such a mission independently without direction with a matter that could be construed as political as this issue. Why would the local Police Department just independently conduct an investigation on a policy or procedural violation? Why are we using resources to investigate issues such as this when there are unsolved murders in the city of Savannah?"The state is already investigating an alleged open meetings law violation against the city of Savannah.

Last month, following the discovery that acting City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney was unable to be bonded under a public officials bond for $1 million, Mayor Johnson called for an investigation into what he called a "leak" of personal information within city hall.

City spokesman Bret Bell told WTOC two weeks ago, an investigation was ongoing and was being handled by the mayor's office.

However, Thomas is concerned an elected official directed Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police to investigate the "leak."

"I am quite bothered by the fact our police department has direction to conduct investigations on personnel and procedural policy involving leaks of information on city employees," Thomas said. "This is no less than a modern day witchhunt."

Thomas says some council members were unaware the police department was involved until Sunday.

Alderman Van Johnson told WTOC Tuesday he was unaware of the SCMPD involvement, but did suggest to WTOC last month that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation be involved.

City officials now say the investigation has been scrapped.

"The investigation would not have been scrapped if the media hadn't gotten closer to discovering the investigation," Thomas said. "In my opinion, that is why both sides pulled the plug on the investigation."

The open meeting violation complaint is still being reviewed by the AG's office. Their office says a decision on the case, after numerous correspondence between the city and the state, could come as early as next week. However, the office says next week is "extremely optimistic" considering a heavy work load for the office, including new legislation on open meeting laws.

Meanwhile, the council is expected to resume city manager search talks on Thursday.

On the agenda is a second reading for the resolution to raise the bond amount for the city manager position from $50,000 to $1,000,000.

As of Wednesday, council members say it is still unclear if Toney has successfully proven her ability to be bonded for one million dollars under a public officials surity bond, which would be required if passed by council.

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