2011
08.29

It’s no secret that LaFayette’s city leaders play favorites with city employees. Workers are hired, promoted, demoted, and even fired based not on their job performance or qualifications but because of their relationships, friendships, or support for the schemes of those in charge.

One example of that is our Public Safety Director, Tommy Freeman. Freeman was chosen to head the combined fire and police department by a three-man committee consisting of Mayor Neal Florence, City Manager Johnnie Arnold, and Walker Sheriff Steve Wilson. Wilson was on the committee to give it legitimacy with law enforcement, but according to the Wilson family Steve provided no input into the process and simply signed off on whatever Florence and Arnold decided. Arnold made the final pick, bypassing qualified local and regional candidates to hire someone from his home town of Griffin, GA.

That would be acceptable if Freeman was more qualified than the other candidates, but he’s no more deserving of the job than some who lived closer by. His previous experience in law enforcement was as head detective for the Griffin, GA police department, and he was rumored to have left that community due to his son and daughter-in-law’s criminal behavior there. (They followed him here; his daughter-in-law was arrested on Christmas Eve 2009 for shoplifting at Walmart and has since gone back to Griffin.) Freeman’s firefighting experience was nil, and even in LaFayette he’s refused to get fire certification the city originally required him to obtain.

The police chief’s job performance is, at best, poor – but the council and city manager have refused to respond to complaints about him from citizens and officers alike. One officer sent a letter about Freeman’s inadequacies to the City Council and mayor; Instead of addressing the officer’s concerns they passed the letter on to Freeman, who made every department employee submit a handwriting sample to figure out who penned it.

That’s not the first time Freeman tried to purge the police department of officers who disagree with him or might be a potential challenger to his job. Shortly after coming into the position, Freeman filed a dubious report to the GBI accusing a senior officer (not the letter writer) of mishandling department property. A state investigation of that officer bore no fruit but established a precedent: anyone in public safety who dares question the chief’s abilities or performance will be raked over the coals and have their life examined with a microscope.

Robby Tate joined LPD as a patrol officer in 1985, switched to the Drug Task Force in 1989, rejoined LPD in 1995 and was promoted to investigator in 1997. He eventually became the department’s lead detective but after getting no support from the new chief he moved back to the patrol division in May 2010. Tate was vocal about the chief’s inabilities and lack of qualification, telling Freeman he “had no confidence” in him. That outspokenness earned him a demotion from Lieutenant to Sergeant last July. After his demotion, Tate (who also didn’t write the letter), continued to serve as a patrol officer until December when Chief Freeman fired him for a minor offense that had occurred six years earlier.

Officer Tate appealed his termination to the LaFayette City Council, and was supported by an attorney and a standing-room-only crowd during the December council meeting. After more than an hour of debate and discussion the council voted to overturn his firing, but only three of the five councilmen (Andy Arnold, Craig, and Hodge) sided with the officer. Councilors Swanson and Tallent (himself a law enforcement officer) backed the police chief, and based on body language and comments during the meeting so did Johnnie Arnold and Mayor Florence. But despite the obviously political reasons for Tate’s dismissal, none of the councilmen – including the three who voted for reinstatement – publicly disciplined Freeman for his unethical and possibly illegal behavior.

In summer 2009 three city employees with a combined 97 years of service were dismissed from the city due to “economic” reasons. The three of them were all at least 55 years old, making them close to retirement, and their duties were given to younger, less experienced employees. All three are now suing the City of LaFayette for age discrimination, accusing the city manager of firing them to make room for cheaper workers. The jobs of all four have been taken over by others, despite the city manager’s insistence that the positions weren’t keeping them busy.

Johnetta McSears was hired by the city in 1980 and worked as Rec. Department building supervisor until July 17, 2009 when she was dismissed for budgetary reasons. Recreation Director Patti Scott fought to keep McSears but was overruled by Johnnie Arnold and the council. Ms. McSears’ job is now being done by a younger, less experienced employee.

Richard Brooks was also hired in 1980 for the city’s gas department. He later worked for Codes Enforcement and became the city’s utility locater, responsible for finding and mapping buried water, sewer, gas, and electric lines. In July 2009 he was told to resign or be fired, and was then informed on July 17th of the same year that his job with the city had been ended. He later applied for other open positions in the city and was not accepted, even as younger employees were given his former duties. The city has had difficulty finding buried water lines since Brooks left.

Eighteen-year-old Freddie Mitchell was hired by the city in September 1970. He started as a laborer and rose through the ranks, becoming Assistant Public Works Supervisor in 1999 in charge of streets, cemetery, and sanitation. In 2000 Mayor Neal Florence recognized Mitchell as LaFayette’s employee of the year.

But in 2008 Freddie Mitchell’s job changed; responsibility for streets and sanitation was handed over to newly hired (and less experienced) Vanessa (Gilliam) Gossett. Mitchell remained in charge of the cemetery with the same rate of pay until July 2009 when his job was supposedly cut due to the economy. He, like the other two, was formally dismissed on July 17, 2009 and responsibility for the cemetery was handed over to other city employees. After 39 years at the same job he was forced to start over at age 57.

Mitchell was fired by Public Works Supervisor Richard Moore. Despite a questionable resumè, Moore (rumored to be a nephew of City Manager Johnnie Arnold) was hired off the street in 1999 and given responsibility for roads, trash, and graves. He was a poor manager but Mitchell and other experienced employees in the department managed to hold things together adequately despite Moore’s unwarranted oversight. Once Mitchell was gone things began to fall apart and Richard Moore’s incompetence became obvious.

In October 2009 Moore ordered a cleanup at the LaFayette cemetery. State prisoners were brought in to handle the work and – lacking supervision from Mitchell, Moore, or Gilliam – went too far and threw away everything in the cemetery except tombstones, confederate flags, and tree limbs. Flowers and mementoes all went in the garbage. That led to attention from Chattanooga media and a special council meeting attended by half the city’s residents, forcing new cemetery regulations and weak apologies from the mayor. It also prompted Richard Moore to take “early retirement” a few months later. He never spoke in public about the incident, and his job, including the cemetery, was fully turned over to Ms. Gilliam.

Richard Moore should never have been hired by the city, much less put in charge of Public Works, but his apparently connection to Johnnie Arnold fast tracked him to the top. Problems from Moore’s tenure, including poor cemetery record keeping, are still surfacing today. Do Johnnie Arnold, the mayor, or the council care? Have they changed their hiring practices? The answer to both questions is still no, as evidenced by Officer Tate and Public Works Employee Andy Fricks.

During a special called City Council meeting about the cemetery problem, Sunda Fricks challenged city leaders about management at the cemetery and demanded that Moore show himself and explain his decisions. She noted at the time that her husband, himself a city employee, might be fired because of her boldness but she stood up and spoke her mind anyway.

A year later Fricks’ prediction came true. Her husband Andy, a Public Works employee who worked side by side with Mitchell in the cemetery, was fired for allegedly stealing a saw from the city. He was doing routine cleanup and maintenance at the graveyard and, finding that the cemetery chainsaw wasn’t working, borrowed one from Public Works. He left that saw locked up overnight in storage at the cemetery, but was fired the next day for theft.

Fricks, like Officer Tate later, appealed his firing and brought in an attorney. One of Fricks’ supporting witnesses, mortician Richard Wilbanks, mentioned other city employees scared of being fired for minor infractions. During their November meeting the council agreed in a 5-0 vote to give Fricks back his job, but made no comment regarding the obviously political motives behind his firing, never named the city official who terminated him, and did nothing to address the growing sense of fear and discouragement among LaFayette city employees.

Within any business or organization the most valuable resources are employees. Regardless of finances, LaFayette city government is only as strong as its people, from elected leaders down to ditch diggers and tree cutters. Without good employees, skilled local workers who care about the city and know how to run its various agencies, the city cannot function – a point we’ve essentially reached in several departments.

Some have been terminated because of politics, favoritism, or age discrimination. Others have taken early retirement or just walked away due to frustration and discouragement. Some continue to be employed by the city but work every day in fear, wondering if a conversation, association, new favorite cousin of the city manager, or simple old age will result in a lost job. Most city employees today are working with their heads down, doing their 40-hour week, trying not to stand out among anyone else to avoid being spotlighted and fired.

The police department has been absolutely castrated; officers who remain (including Tate) have been silenced through the city’s actions towards them, and have put unqualified people in charge of investigating crime in LaFayette. Public Works and the water department have lost many of their best, most experienced employees, leaving rudderless departments without anyone able to read plans or properly engineer projects.

The city is also now facing at least one lawsuit from wrongfully terminated employees. McSears, Brooks, and Mitchell have filed an age discrimination suit against LaFayette, demanding missed pay with interest along with legal fees and reinstatement to their previous positions. Their Roswell GA-based attorney has moved forward a legal claim under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and has begun getting depositions from city employees, beginning today with outgoing City Manager Johnne Arnold.

The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial for the case, which will likely result in a loss for the city. That loss will open the doors to other legal claims from fired employees – the city has already settled claims from a fourth individual terminated in July 2009 for the same dubious reasons. LaFayette could potentially face hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional legal liabilities (either courtroom judgments or forced settlements) stemming from employee mistreatment at the hands of Johnnie Arnold and his friend Tommy Freeman.

Financial costs pale in comparison to what employee mistreatment has done to the city’s ability to function. Discouraged employees are afraid to do more than the minimum and incompetent department heads provide little support or guidance for the work being done. The loss of competent leadership and employee motivation is beginning to show all over town; rutted half-repaired streets, poor record keeping, cost overruns, poorly maintained facilities, increasing crime, and a city on the edge of ruin.

Three of LaFayette’s current councilmen – Bill Craig, Eric Tallent, and Norm Hodge – will be off the council by year’s end. City Manager Arnold has also announced plans to retire next March and will begin training his replacement next month. But even with four of the city’s leaders out of the picture, their legacy of incompetence, favoritism, and abuse will live on well into the future.

The next city manager and newly elected council will have their hands full next January, and probably for many years to come, as they battle fourteen-plus years of political shenanigans and mismanagement, lawsuits, loss of employees, and loss of confidence among the city’s employees and residents. What we’ve discussed here is just the tip of an iceberg; much more is buried beneath the surface with God-knows-what to emerge once new people have access to the city’s inner works.

Details of Age Discrimination in Employment Act Lawsuit

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30 comments so far

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  1. First, I would like to say I was born and raised in LaFayette, GA and it’s about time someone spoke out about the misconduct of the City Official’s. This article states that Mrs. McSears was let go due to “budgetary reasons” this can’t be a true statement due to the fact that Ms. Estus made more per hour than Mrs. McSears at that time. Once the news was announced about the cuts, Ms. Estus offered to step down because of the experience Mrs. McSears has to offer The City of LaFayette and knowing of the little time before Mrs. McSears had to retire.
    What should be frown upon is the City Manager dating his secretary “Doris” and they exposing it on Facebook…(CONFLICT OF INTEREST) and City employee’s working 40+ hours but these employees are not been compensated for over time. What goes around comes around and these faithful employees’ will get their justice.

  2. Chattanooga Times Free-Press, Wednesday August 31 2011:

    “The city manager of LaFayette, Ga., gave a deposition Monday in a lawsuit that claims three employees were fired for being old.”

    Read the rest of this (which we had first) here: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/aug/31/lafayette-official-questioned-age-bias-lawsuit/

    Thanks for reading. The doo-doo is flying, lots of stuff going on we’ll be discussing soon.

    — LU

  3. Tommy Freeman is a complete idiot. I have a family Member who has been taken advantage of: Elder Abuse, Fraud, Theft, credit card fraud, POA abuse….a long list of things. She was diagnosed with Dementia ( 2007), Alzheimer’s ( 2007), and liver cancer( 2010). Tommy plays golf with the bankrupt thugs who did it ( oh yeah, and they are related to the city judge – the one who did the roof on the building Tommy works in.) so he REFUSES to investigate it. I should say he and his “lead detective” REFUSE. Walker County just arrested and charged a woman for doing the very same thing. ( here is a link to the story: http://www.newschannel9.com/articles/morgan-1004370-savings-accused.html ) A few weeks ago Hamilton County Arrested a man for it, and a few months earlier Zeb Patten was arrested by Chattanooga for it. Tommy thinks its all civil – WHAT!? Yes, he thinks Elder Abuse, Stealing, POA Abuse, Fraud, Credit Card Fraud, Forgery is a CIVIL matter. I have spoke with Three Different people in GBI who would LOVE to have the case ( and this arrest is proof the GBI will do it ) BUT that Freeman has to turn ALL of it over to them. Supposedly he went to them and said “hey, here is a case these people have but its all civil so dont bother with it”…. I know one thing, Tommy is doing a heck of a job “Serving and protecting” the TRASH he associates with but that’s about it!

  4. Someone told me today that Johnny Arnold was either dating, or shacking up with his secretary. That reeks of nepotism if it’s true. Which came first … the secretary or the squeeze? I wonder if she filled one of these slots related to the lawsuit?

    What a pathetic govt. I hope the whole castle crumbles, both city & county.

  5. The wife Mr. Arnold did have works, or worked anyway, at the mayor’s drug store. The family in charge of fixing garbage trucks is about to have a member named City Manager, if they don’t go to jail first.. Lots of connections we need to be breaking.

    — LU

  6. Well, we had one forced to resine today at the city $10,000.00 short who’s pocket did it go?

  7. Speaking of connections, does anybody know the truth concerning the new Taco Bell? I heard today that it will be conjoined with a Burger King, and that the Burger King grill foundation has been poured already.

  8. BigBoy: that went into the pockets of the one who resigned, I’m told, but would make sense for some tobe shared with others considering how long he was left in place to steal in spite of having a criminal record. We’ll be talking about that more in a future blog post.

    QCH: Supposed to be a Taco Bell/KFC from what I’ve heard. A Taco Bell BK wouldn’t make much sense. Restaurant grills don’t generally have a foundation, it’s just a piece of equipment and some seasoning that makes the thing taste like it was cooked on a BBQ.

    — LU

  9. I must have missed the news….who resigned?

  10. Another story from Walker Co about an arrest for POA Abuse and Elder Abuse…Tommy Freeman is still protecting his Buddies instead of making an arrest for the same thing and worse: How can we get this man out of that position!? Who is over his head?

    THE DAUGHTER…RUTH MARIE STRICKLAND… WHO ALSO GOES BY RUTHIE JACKSON AND RUTHIE GRAY… HAS BEEN CHARGED WITH BATTERY AND FALSE IMPRISONMENT IN THE CASE. THE MOTHER HAD GRANTED POWER OF ATTORNEY TO HER DAUGHTER… WHO ALLEGEDLY SPENT ALL THE MONEY FROM HER MOM’S SOCIAL SECURITY INCOME.

  11. You didn’t miss the news, it wasn’t in the news and may never be… Someone resigned after stealing money for himself and his family’s company from the city. We’ll be working on an article about that over the weekend, trying to get all the details together. Keep reading.

    –LU

  12. hello lu lafayette you have some very good topics to talk about i myself am not very good at my writing skills but i do have a question have you heard anything or anymore about the richie white deal at the city of lafayette oh yea keep on doing what your doing i hear T.FREEMAN AND J.ARNOLD talk alot about the “new manger” coming also T.FREEMAN is scared he will lose his job feel free to email me if youd like have a good day and stay dry

  13. It would be a GREAT day in LaFayette if/when the “Guys from Griffin” go back to Griffin! AGAIN, Walker County Arrested and charged two different people last week for Abuse of POA , Elder Abuse, Fraud, Theft by Conversion. In both cases The sorry thugs that took advantage of the sick/elderly are being charged with Crimes WHILE there is also civil action. In an effort to serve and protect the golf course mafia and friend kitchen-*itch – (prison cook) Tommy REFUSES to investigate. It would be awesome to have an real “lawman” that would work to uphold the law and not the politics of the city. It also doesnt help that when the Kitchen *itch was in the hospital last week one of the prosecutors went to visit…I guess it all comes down to who you know that will allow you to get by with murder….Thank Goodness Teresa and Sam lived in the County, otherwise Sam may be Chief of Police by now….
    Drugs are so bad in LaFayette I think I would rather run out of gas on the back-side of memorial Hospital instead of LaFayette. A real lawman ( or law-woman) would work to make stiffer punishment of drug related crimes. The new “legal” pot/weed/spice is taking over the young people. Why hasn’t he appeared before the city council, mayor, manager … to write an ordinance to ban the sale and use of that crap in the city? This is very dangerous, unregulated stuff. For the Guys from Griffin this is ONLY a retirement position and neither could care less about right and wrong as longs as they make it to the retirement golden egg. A good day in the queen city of the highland’s would be the day they both went south without any retirement/benefits from the city. Billy Mullis is hoping to run for Steve Wilson’s position, let’s all hope that doesnt happen as he is an extention of Tommy’s left arm. Sherriff Mullis would extend to the county the fine art of head turning…we dont need that!
    I heard the new manager was Mark White, is that true? Please tell me it isnt! I do hope we get someone who cares about the city, maybe someone who remembers and respects what it was like to grow up in a safe city. Safe enough for kids to walk home from school, safe enough for kids to walk home from the movies….a safe town of caring individuals with morals and respect for themselves and others ( dreamy right..lol). My Great Grandfather was a business owner, as well as my grandfather, father, and mother it is such a shame to see how the town went from a respectable place to live to a place no one wants to be.

  14. Freeman’s wife told a friend of mine just the other day that they are selling out and moving away? I don’t know if this is news to you guys, but it was to me. I haven’t followed Freeman much, so this may be old news.

    Any thoughts?

  15. Tattletail – I agree with several things you mentioned in your post, but you’re wrong about Billy Mullis. I’ve spoken with him before about his campaign for Sheriff, and he is definitely not “an extention of Tommy’s left arm.” With all due respect, you should maybe have a real conversation with him before making that assumption. More likely extensions of Freeman’s body parts would be Benji Clift and Stacey Meeks. They are his right and left arms, his eyes and ears,…I could go on but I’m sure you get the point. The police department is in desparate need of some moral characters who know how to manage a department instead of causing destruction.

  16. QCH: neighbors say their house is up for sale. We can only hope…

    My2Cents: Mullis doesn’t toe the LPD line. When Darin Kelley and Tommy Freeman were trying to crucify Robbie Tate in front of the council, Billy Mullis made statements in support of the fired officer. Stacey Meeks was there but he didn’t speak up, Clift possibly was there too but he didn’t say anything either.

    Freeman should be forced out for the way he belittles, berates, and curses at his officers. That alone should be enough for the City Council to fire him, much less his incompetence and lack of support for real police doing real police work.

    — LU

  17. I have always thought that same thing until I reached out to him for help. I got the same tired lines ( the exact ones) that Tommy was Spewing..same lines.Could it be that he is too intimidated to speak, yes. As I grew up in LaFayette I know both He and Robbie, I also know from a different standpoint what Tommy is like. Admittedly I am frustrated with the situation. However, I did get some VERY GOOD NEWS from GBI on my case…Strips and Orange jump suits are on their way, it only a matter of time…and I have time to wait for this! GOODY!
    If the Guys from Griffin would both head south it will be awesome for our city. I should say COULD be as long as they dont get to choose their own replacement and dont leave with a retirement golden egg. Maybe the officers need to go on strike? Wouldnt that be GREAT!! What a show of unity and purpose. Who will be Tommy’s Replacement? Wouldnt it be GREAT if it were Robbie…I think so!

  18. Well said. There are so few in the department willing to stand up for what is right, but from what I know of him, I believe Mullis is one of those. What’s sad is that if we ever actually get rid of the unethical, corrupt chief in this city, Clift and Meeks will be the ones fighting for his position – and we’ll end up right back where we are now. LaFayette so desperately needs a new set of management – starting at the top.

    Keep doin’ what you’re doin’, LU!

  19. Tattletail(s):
    Ummmmm. . . . in case you HAVE NOT HEARD, I have heard that the GBI are coming for you two.

  20. The funny thing about this police stuff is that some of the police officers everybody trashes are the ones who have stood up to Freeman the most and the loudest. He may be over it, but he would have loved to fire them, but was too scared to go through with it. They have too much support

  21. The GBI is welcome to come see me ANYTIME…I like them, they can get some stuff done! As a matter of fact how do you think they know who to go “around” ? just like when the wiretape went missing….sometimes they have to go around certain folks….then take them the way of the turds they were protecting ( turds go down the toilet in case you didnt know ). Right now, Im a happy camper, I just hope Freeman sticks around long enough to see it and of course see his retirement gone….

  22. DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU GOT THE NEWS BUT JOHNNIE ARNOLD IS NOT FROM GRIFFIN GEORGIA BUT, BORN AND RAISED IN BAXLEY GEORGIA….THAT IS A TRUE FACT!!!!

  23. I find it interesting that we’ve basically accused Johnnie Arnold of being a lying thief, and the only thing people can point out in the article to criticize us on is saying, mistakenly, that he’s from Griffin.

    — LU

  24. I dont care where he is from as much as I care as to where he goes! Which is anywhere but here! Go Johnny Go, Go….
    The actions he presented at Twins was a bold statement of “I have this place by the tail”. It was a show of his disrespect for the people he works for and with. This is also a great example of “title doesnt equal intelligence”. A huge outcry from the public could make a difference in what happens next.
    I hope this is the beginning of the officers standing up and doing the right thing. I dont know how police structures work but you would think there would be an internal affairs investigator that could do something if there was this much corruption coming from the top. I believe most LPD officers became policemen for the right reason. I also think those officers do what they have to do in order to keep a job in this economic environment. I have presented them with proof of felonies and Freeman wouldnt allow them to do anything about it. Maybe they are frustrated too. When I have spoke out against them it has been out of my frustration. I hope that if they have been suppressed from doing the right thing, they will take the reins and do all they can now to correct the reputation of this department. NOW is the time. All it will take is ONE person to stand up and start it, call the news put it all at risk for and make change happen. Without a CM the Mayor will be on the hot seat and possibly do what is right.
    I finally got a break, I am getting help from a different agency, not everyone gets a break like that.

  25. Haha, it’s hard to find anything else to throw … the man (Arnold) is a thug.

  26. talltletail,her sister and her robocop brother in law do not live in walker county much less lafayette. the only one that is is her derelect son who is hiding from child support and traffic violations. sign your real name and stay the f**k in catooosa county. by the way tell the gbi to come see me you kinky headed home wrecking wh***. by the way the real estate commission is looking into your actions as well as your messenger’s. if you wanted to come to lafayette, you should have came while your family member was still alive. you sorry piece of sh**. i hope i get to strike the match when you get to hell. you are a bigger thief than your mom and dad, and if possible a sorrier mother than your mom.

  27. LOL….hahahahaha

    Sounds like somebody’s not happy…..
    GBI and everyone else can look into anything I have done. I dont have anything to hide…You cant say that can you….
    GBI is busy looking into the con-man ( who APS was called on him for his abuse of his mom. he sucked her hind teet dry then went on to a mentally disabled woman)., the vulture, and the child molester….( any 27 yr old man that preys on teen age girls belongs in prison). The Real Estate commission is busy looking into a Realtor who has rental property and isnt running her deposits and rents through her brokers account as is required by law ( they take trust account violations seriously). Those same deposits that are assets of the bankruptcy court she is still trying to defraud….So I can wait till they have free time to come back and see me so I can give them more evidence….Didnt know I had a messenger…oh well…
    My son has done things Im not proud of but at least I know who he belongs to…
    You cant say that can you?

  28. Btw
    Have you seen all the people who have gone to jail for elder abuse, poa abuse, theift by conversion?…. Speaking of matches….are you feeling the heat?

  29. I’m going to ask you both to keep personal comments about each other to a minimum or I will suspend your access to commenting. We appreciate discussion but this is distraction.

    — LU

  30. Well, it seems as though someone is upset bc their brother-in-law the judge was not able to carry out the plan of running the kid up the city flag pole…He had his incident transferred to a different court. This judge continued to try to talk him into staying with the city court so he could “help” him…..didnt work….corrupt….