Port Wentworth councilmember resigns, ethics complaint dismissed

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:34 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:30 PM EST
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PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - A Port Wentworth councilmember has resigned from her seat.

In her resignation letter, Councilwoman Jo Smith said in-part quote, “I will be moving from Port Wentworth due to time-consuming business obligations and extensive travel schedule.”

Councilman Rufus Bright says he didn’t see it coming.

“I saw the resignation letter. I was totally shocked in a sense. Not shocked to unbelief but shocked to the point that it happened so quick,” said Councilman Bright.

WTOC reached out to the former councilwoman via email after she did not take phone calls.

In the email, WTOC asked Smith whether the travel and business obligations are because her residency is primarily Cobb County and if her leaving had anything to do with the ethics hearing that was supposed to happen tomorrow.

Her response was: “Not at all. I had been mulling this over for some time, meeting and balancing all one’s obligations is always difficult. The recent conflict only solidified my timeline.”

That conflict she alludes to is the ethics complaint filed against her by three council members in November.

Smith’s resignation comes a day before an ethics hearing regarding that ethics complaint where Smith was accused of misusing her city credit card, conflicts of interest tied to taxpayer money, trying to get her sister’s company on the city’s payroll, and residing in Cobb County - not Port Wentworth.

“Last thing I heard was we were going to court. I was preparing to go to court tomorrow,” said Councilman Bright.

He says the former councilwoman had them reschedule the hearing multiple times already for health issues and lawyer issues.

Due to her resignation, the ethics complaint has been dismissed and the hearing on the complaint have been cancelled.

When asked whether other councilmembers will be held to the same standard, Councilman Bright said, “I want to just the same way holding accountable cause we owe the citizens.”

He says that goes for any councilmembers currently holding a seat too. Councilman Bright says ultimately all he wanted was better for Port Wentworth and there’s no ill will.

“I wish Ms. Jo Smith the best. I don’t wish any harm to her but in the City of Port Wentworth we want to do it right. We want to be ethical. We want to do for the citizens not ourselves.”

There will be a special election to fill the former councilwoman’s at large seat.

Councilwoman Jo Smith’s name and photo have since been removed from the city’s website. WTOC called every councilmember, the mayor and the city manager.

Only one person was willing to comment - Councilwoman Nelson said in part “We always agreed to disagree peacefully and respectfully as the only women on council. I wish her the absolute best in whatever she pursues beyond the City of Port Wentworth.”

Councilwoman Smith still has not agreed to an interview.

The full resignation letter is below: