Several dozen people gathered in the parking lot outside the Demorest Municipal Building on Tuesday waiting to hear why the city’s police chief was fired.
They never did.
The meeting was over before it even started.
At 6:14 p.m., fourteen minutes after the meeting was scheduled to start, someone from inside the Demorest Municipal Building posted to Facebook that the meeting was canceled “due to lack of quorum.”
Those who had gathered with signs to show their support for the fired chief learned the meeting was canceled through social media. None of the city officials inside the building stepped outside to tell them.
Sign of the times
The posters supporting Robin Krockum weren’t the only signs in Demorest this day.
Signs that the meeting was unraveling surfaced early Tuesday when Demorest City Manager Kim Simonds learned Mayor Rick Austin planned to hold the meeting outside. He said he decided to do that after the city attorney advised council members the meeting was not properly advertised and did not meet the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. Holding the meeting outside would have fixed that because the public could attend. When Simonds found out, sources say she ordered the stage Austin had set up to be taken down and moved the meeting location back indoors.
“Our city attorney reiterated his opinion that this meeting was not properly advertised and he wouldn’t be attending because of that,” Austin explains. “The easy solution to that tonight would have been for [Councilman] Nathan Davis to step outside so we could have had a quorum.”
After it was clear the meeting would not be held outside, City Attorney Joey Homans left and so did Councilman Sean Moore. “I would not be in a meeting without our city attorney present to ensure everything was done according to the law,” Moore tells Now Habersham. Likewise, Austin said he would not attend an illegal meeting.
After the meeting was canceled, Simonds stayed inside the municipal building waiting for the crowd to disperse. At one point she reportedly requested a Georgia State Patrol escort. Although they offered, she waited until 7:35 p.m. to leave. Shortly before she exited, someone posted a notice to the city’s Facebook page that appeared to blame Austin and Homans for the cancellation. It did not address the issue of whether the meeting was legal.
“We regret that our City Council Work Session could not be held tonight. Mayor Rick Austin and the City Attorney refused to join the meeting,” the statement reads. “Councilman Moore and Councilman Davis attended in person. Councilman Hendrix was teleconferenced in. Councilman Moore left saying he would not continue to attend without legal counsel present. With his exit, there was no quorum, leaving no choice but to cancel the meeting.”
As Simonds left the building, she doubled-down on that statement telling reporters the meeting was canceled because “the mayor and legal counsel refused to come in.”
In a follow-up email to Simonds Tuesday night, Now Habersham asked her why she had the stage removed and why the council did not meet outside. She replied, “The Governor’s Executive Order has banned meetings of more than 10 people, inside or outside.”
Next meeting May 5
“We’re at a stalemate in the City of Demorest,” Mayor Austin says. “You had people indoors with the blinds drawn and they refused to come out and meet. It sends a terrible message to the people because this is their government.”
This is the second failed public meeting in Demorest in as many weeks. The council has not met since Simonds abruptly fired Krockum on April 16.
The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 5 at the municipal building at 125 Ivy Street in Demorest. It has been advertised in the local newspaper but Austin says the city attorney will make sure this time it’s properly advertised to comply with the law.
This article has been updated with additional comments from City Manager Kim Simonds