Snellville's Mayor Kautz Served with Ante Litem Notice Over Alleged Civil Rights Violation
Mayor Kelly Kautz is accused of violating Marilyn Swinney's First Amendment rights during a July council meeting.
A Snellville woman is threatening to sue Mayor Kelly Kautz and the City of Snellville because she says her civil rights were violated during a July City Council meeting. They have been served with an ante litem notice for "restrictions placed on [Marilyn Swinney's] speech."
"I really feel like this had to be done," Swinney, a Snellville resident, told Snellville Patch. "And I said from the beginning that we’ll let the judge decide."
A lawsuit has not yet been filed, but could be if a settlement is not reached.
Swinney, at her attorney's recommendation, will accept a $13,000 settlement in lieu of going to court. They are alleging that Swinney's civil rights were violated when the mayor cut her off during the public comments portion of the council meeting.
Swinney is being represented by the Counts Law Group, based in Atlanta.
"Ms. Swinney’s speech was cut off early on explicitly because of the content of the items she sought to discuss [the Mayor’s recent Mayors Report]," according to Swinney's attorney, Cynthia Counts. "Mayor Kautz’s move to silence Ms. Swinney violates both the United States and Georgia Constitutions."
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.'"
Snellville Patch previously reported that at the time set aside for public comments, Swinney planned on saying she was surprised at the mayor's report.
"And that was as far as I got," Swinney said.
Her plan, she said, was to question the mayor's assertion that she did not believe in the council. Swinney 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.
The most recent citizen survey was the latest in a string of positive things, according to Swinney.
"I never got to say any of that," she said.
Instead, she 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."
In our first report on this incident, Mayor Kautz said that when Swinney came to the podium, Kautz "knew where it was going."
"I asked for the mike to be turned off so that she would listen to me," Kautz said. "I reminded her of our personal decorum policy, and then had the mike turned back on."
This can be seen in the video above.
Specifically, Ms. Swinney intends to file suit alleging violations of her First Amendment Rights under the United States Constitution, violations of her rights under the Constitution of the State of Georgia, and violations of Georgia State law, including, but not limited to, intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"We believe this demand is more than fair, and is consistent with prior settlements our firms have reached in cases specifically involving restrictions on speech at government meetings," wrote Counts, Swinney's attorney. "For instance, the undersigned counsel recently resolved a similar case in Smyrna where an individual was prevented from speaking and detained for several hours by police authorities. After filing federal civil rights litigation, the lawsuit eventually settled for $85,000. Because of the patently unconstitutional acts of Mayor Kautz and the City of Snellville, liability in this matter is clear."
Gwinnett Ethics, a nonprofit ethics watchdog, wrote on its website this afternoon that "Kautz’s disturbing history of abusing the power of her office will be costing taxpayers some money in the future and probably has in the past. We don’t think that should be allowed to happen without consequences. Kautz should be held accountable for her gross violations of the public trust."
City Attorney Tony Powell could not be reached immediately for comment.
Snellville Patch will continue to update you with this story as more information is available.