HomeNewsCrime & CourtsGrovetown mayor files suit against former employer, the Waynesboro Police Department

Grovetown mayor files suit against former employer, the Waynesboro Police Department

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The mayor of Grovetown who was fired from the Waynesboro Police Department last fall has filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit alleging his termination was retaliation for exposing mismanagement in the municipal court clerk’s work.

Gary Jones filed the Burke County Superior Court civil lawsuit Tuesday, Feb. 8 against the city of Waynesboro, Police Chief Willie J. Burley, Vice Mayor James Jones, City Administrator Valerie Kirkland and city council members. He is seeking reinstatement, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees and court costs.

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The police chief fired Jones in October 2021 after three years’ service as a major in the department. According to Burley, Jones did have responsibility for the funds and information relating the city’s municipal court, but his investigation reached the wrong conclusions, undermined Burley’s authority over the police department and hurt the department’s morale.

Jones contends in the lawsuit that he was fired for doing what the Georgia Whistleblowers Act protects employees from. The law aims to prevent employers from retaliating against employees who report violations of law, rules or regulations, or report waste or abuse of public resources. That, according to the lawsuit, is exactly what Jones did.

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Jones says in the lawsuit that in early September, he became suspicious that all money collected by the municipal court clerk wasn’t deposited into city coffers and that clerks weren’t following the law regarding information that must be sent to the Georgia Crime Information Center. The GCIC is the entity used by law enforcement to check criminal histories. Employers, current or prospective, and insurance companies, for example, can also check backgrounds to a certain extent through the GCIC.

Jones says he suggested to Burley that he ask the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter, but after consulting with the city administrator and council, Burley rejected the suggestion. Jones said he then suggested bringing in a person from the Grovetown municipal court to assess the Waynesboro Municipal Court clerk’s office and provide training. That suggestion was accepted, Jones said.

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The assessment uncovered numerous violations in how the clerk’s records are recorded and maintained, including the failure to report drunken driving arrests and other more serious traffic offenses that affect a person’s ability to legally drive, according to Jones’ lawsuit. The assessment also found incidents in which people paid fines when they hadn’t actually been convicted of any offense, the lawsuit continues.

The real battle between Jones and the city leaders was over the possibility of money not being deposited into the city’s coffers, according to the lawsuit and media reports from last fall. At one point, Jones contended the review flushed out as much as $144,000 unaccounted for, an amount later lowered to around $24,000. The city leaders contended the amount was closer to $2,000, according to a report in The True Citizen newspaper’s account of a Oct. 18 city council meeting.

Sandy Hodson is a staff reporter covering courts for The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected]. 

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