Demorest - A crowd of 50 plus gathered outside Demorest City Hall Tuesday night to show their support of Robin Krockum and to wait on a meeting that never happened.
“Last night’s gathering was a show of support for our constitution, it was a show of support for the first amendment, it was a show of support for chief Robin Krockum, and it was a show of support for open and transparent government,” Mayor Rick Austin said.
Krockum was fired nearly 2 weeks ago “without any notice” for failure to discipline one of his officers for remarks made on Facebook regarding the city’s trash cans. Krockum stated in writing why he could not reprimand the officer, which was a matter of the officers First Amendment rights. It goes back to cases such as Pickering v. Board of Education, Austin said.
Krockum is described as having a “steller record” by Austin.
“Created us (police department) from a lackluster of a department to being the number one police department in the state three years in a row,” Austin tells WCHM.
A Meeting That Never Took Place
6 p.m. came and the meeting had not started. Minutes went by and then it was announced via Facebook the meeting would not be taking place that night.
“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 post announcing the cancelation 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.”
Simmonds is reportedly in charge of the city’s Facebook page.
“Last night was an opportunity for us to have a meeting,” Austin said. Austin goes on to claim that the meeting was not properly advertised and that is why he refused to enter the building. Austin said that Demorest City Attorney Joey Homans along with another local government attorney both concluded that the meeting was not appropriately advertised and deemed improper.
“There was a court case as recent as March of 2020, that indicated that anybody that participates knowingly in a meeting that’s not an open meeting, potentially incurs personal liability and I just simply wasn’t going to operate that way,” Austin said.
Austin goes on to say he attempted to avoid repercussions from an improper meeting by moving the meeting outside.
One councilman who is older in age was teleconferenced in for the meeting. However, Austin said that Councilman Nathan Davis has been operating his business and has even been spotted at Ingles, so sheltering in place would not have been a viable reason for not moving the meeting outside.
“I don’t know what the reason is for not coming outside and having that meeting, other than trying to keep the public from understanding what’s going on,” Austin said.
“Learning that our meeting was not going to be proper to have it inside, I picked up the phone and called someone who I knew to be able to provide potentially a stage and a PA system and paid for it out of pocket,” Austin tells WCHM. The stage was set up Monday evening ready for the meeting and Austin said he let the City Manager and council know the meeting would be held outside.
It was not long until an email was sent out stating the meeting would not be held outside and the stage came down.
Butting Heads Within The City
“It would be easy to say there is a complete divide among the council,” Austin says. “The two newest councilmembers insist this is a council, (city) manager driven government and the mayor has no power.”
“We’re locked down right now,” Austin said. “Right now, we’re at a standstill.”
Along with the improper meeting that never happened Tuesday, the city is facing liability from having an interim police chief that was never “appropriately approved,” according to Austin.
According to Homans and the other attorney Austin spoke with, “there are two ways you can hold a meeting during the current pandemic and current state of emergency order. Number one, a complete teleconference meeting. You have to provide in that notice (advertising notice), where specifically where someone can go online and watch the stream.” Austin goes on, saying “Number two, if you’re going to have public comment then you have to provide a phone number and/or email address where people can interact.”
The information release on the City of Demorest’s Facebook page was not in compliance with the 24-hour public notice.
“The communication between and myself, the City Manager and the City Attorney, and other council members except for Sean Moore has been nonexistent,” Austin tells WCHM. “I just don’t get any communication.”
Austin goes on to state that he has reached out to Simmonds to schedule a phone call conversation which has received no response.
There was talk regarding the meeting being delayed due to internet issues. The city was unable to get the feed up and running so it is unknown if the internet was an issue or was a scapegoat for something else.
“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” Austin tells WCHM when asked what can be expected from the current situation. “Sometimes you just have to dig your heels in and continue to fight for what you know and believe to be right.”
There will be a meeting Tuesday, May 5.