Fort Oglethorpe city council

Fort Oglethorpe city council members incurred multiple lawsuits during 2013 following the council’s actions on March 22, when three long-time employees lost their jobs. One lawsuit filed by local citizens, as an alternative to a recall effort, was settled by both parties in December. (Catoosa News photo/Natasha Colbaugh)

The New Year brings a fresh start for incoming Fort Oglethorpe council members Craig Crawford and Paula Stinnett. The two new council members will have one less lawsuit to worry about as they work to set the city on a path toward recovery.

The lawsuit filed by citizens Louise Stinnett and Chris McKeever against individual city council members has been settled, as of Dec. 16.

Stinnett and McKeever brought the suit against four of the city’s five council members on May 31, as an alternative to a recall effort. The suit was in response to the council’s actions on March 22 when three long-time city employees lost their jobs.

The suits petitioned in Catoosa County Superior Court for mayor Lynn Long and council members Louis Hamm, Johnny “Red” Smith and Clay Kissner individually to be removed from office based on alleged evidence of an unlawful conspiracy.

The council members voted to have the city provide a defense in the suits and retained Atlanta-based attorney Charles Palmer with Troutman Sanders LLP. The suits were consolidated into one by the council’s attorney. Council members approved an invoice to the law firm in August for more than $26,000.

“My clients wanted to keep pressure on the mayor and city council to prevent them from inflicting any more harm to the city or its employees by bringing suit,” said Ringgold attorney John Wiggins, who represented plaintiffs McKeever and Stinnett. “They have every confidence that the new city council will work diligently to restore integrity and confidence in Fort Oglethorpe and do what is best for the residents, businesses and employees.”

The voters of Fort Oglethorpe sent a strong message to city hall by soundly defeating Louis Hamm and Clay Kissner’s bids for re-election in November, McKeever and Stinnett said in a news release on Dec. 23. “Earl Gray, the only city councilman who stood against the actions of March 22, was re-elected and will be joined by new council members Craig Crawford and Paula Stinnett.”

The suit was dropped primarily to eliminate some of the burden for incoming council members, McKeever said. The settlement agreement states that both parties desire to compromise and settle the lawsuits without determining the validity or invalidity of each party’s position in an effort to avoid additional time, effort and money.

The document further states that neither party will seek to recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred during litigation.

The city council’s first meeting of the new year will be held Jan. 13.