City Pays $15,000 to Settle Swinney Lawsuit
The City will avoid going to court over allegedly violating Marilyn Swinney's Constitutional rights.
The City of Snellville paid $15,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Snellville resident Marilyn Swinney involving Mayor Kelly Kautz's alleged violation of her civil rights in July of 2012.
A little over $10,000 will be sent out this week to Swinney, while $4,500 will be sent to Georgia State University professor Kelly Timmons, a Constitutional law specialist, for her review and opinions regarding the viability of the claims, according to City Manager Butch Sanders.
Timmons advised that the Mayor's actions violate the Constitution's first amendment rights.
The City paid a $1,000 deductible, while the rest was paid for by their liability insurance policy covering official actions.
Mayor Kautz did not return Snellville Patch's request for comment.
Swinney said that she would donate the majority of the settlement to local charities, including the Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative.
"My first amendment rights were violated," said Swinney. "I would have been very satisfied if she had just apologized to me. As I said in the past, it’s not about the money."
A little history
At the time set aside for public comments in a July 23 council meeting, Swinney approached the microphone to question the Mayor's statement that she did not believe in the city council.
Swinney said she planned on saying she was surprised at the mayor's declaration. She wanted to cite specific examples of successes the council has had: the Farmers' Market, Snellville Tourism and Trade, the community garden, and a successful fundraiser for Aimee Copeland.
"I missed the last council meeting but I watched the tape," she began, as recorded in the video of the meeting. "I was kind of surprised by your mayor's report. You stated that you..."
At that point, she was interrupted by Mayor Kelly Kautz, who asserted that Swinney was "out of order." She then requested that Swinney's microphone be turned off.
"Personal attacks against a member of council are not acceptable," Kautz responded, "so if you want to say something for public comment, we'll continue, but you're out of order on the path you are going."
When Swinney's microphone was turned back on, she continued, saying, "I feel that we do not have leadership. And if we don't have leadership, we will never have a council that works together.
"I feel the leadership that you think you have here in Snellville is not adequate. I suggest the leader of Snellville take the necessary steps to look within and find some leadership techniques, whether it's seminars, books, whatever. Thank you."
Swinney said she was so flustered and embarrassed, she barely remembers what she said.
"I felt intimidated," she said. "I felt humiliated. I wanted the ground to swallow me up."
Kautz, on the other hand, said her intent was not to embarrass Swinney, but that she "knew where it was going." She and Swinney have a long, difficult history, according to Kautz, one that includes name calling and intense moments during council meetings.
"I asked for the mike to be turned off so that she would listen to me," she said. "I reminded her of our personal decorum policy, and then had the mike turned back on."
(This can be seen in the video.)
There have been instances in the past where members of the public have made comments about council members, including the Mayor, that were not in line with the public decorum policy, yet they have been allowed to continue without a reminder of the public decorum policy.
In one instance, a citizen called councilman Tom Witts a "liar" and "cheat." That speaker was allowed to continue speaking.
"Should I have enforced it a lot sooner?" Kautz asked. "Probably."
Kautz determined to enforce the policy when she found out that George Anderson, a watchdog who has launched an ethics investigation against councilman Tom Witts, would make public comment in a future meeting.
From the official ante litem notice:
"In declaring Ms. Swinney “out of order,” and unilaterally ordering that the microphone be cut off, Mayor Kautz violated the procedure for decorum issues in sec. 2-53(3), which clearly provides that once the chair rules that an individual is “out of order,” “[a] majority vote of the city council will rule on the point of order.”
"Instead, Mayor Kautz unilaterally ordered that Ms. Swinney’s comments be truncated, with no vote on the propriety of her arbitrary ruling that Ms. Swinney was 'out of order.'"
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