Washington, Georgia City Councilman Tells Mayor and Council he is Going to Reporter's House "Bail me out if I get locked up."

Published on 14 June 2024 at 20:04

On Wednesday June 12, 2024 I published an article where an interview Richard Crabbe conducted with Washington city councilman Newt Gunter was referenced. Gunter was asked about a rumor that had been circulating that he was considering rescinding his vote in favor of asking for the resignation of city administrator Jerry deBin. Crabbe sent me a quote where Gunter said he was considering to rescind his vote. We did not say he said he did rescind it or that he said he was planning to rescind his vote only that he told Crabbe he was considering it. Mayor Bruce Bailey sent an email to Richard Crabbe and myself Wednesday afternoon saying one council member specifically Bailey stated via email "I have had one council member ask to rescind his yes to a no vote. Another council member called but did not change their vote." Bailey did not mention who it was who requested this however, this would be subject to public record. We stated in the article what Bailey told us. You can also see in the text messages below this article that Bailey mentions council member requests to change their vote and how it should be handled. Again, it appears there is a back channel the mayor and council have utilizing this group text to avoid conversations being public, which is required by law.

At 5:12 PM I received a text message from councilman Nathaniel Cullars Sr. that he was witness to a text message Newt Gunter had sent in a group text participated in by all members of city council and the mayor. Gunter said;

"I am going to stop by michelle's house on my way home so bail me out if i get locked up. Thanks." 

I was very confused by this and thought he must be referencing someone other than me. I had no reason to believe Gunter was upset with me and I have not had any negative interactions with him in the past and have only spoken to him on one or two occasions. About 10 minutes later Cullars Sr. sent another text from Gunter stating "No one is home but i will check back as soon as I see a car there. My lawer is out of Madison, ga."

I was still quite confused so called Cullars Sr. and asked him to clarify. He told me Gunter was upset about the article and what was published that day. He said he and all members of council including Andy Anderson, David Fisher, Larry Hill, Maceo Mahoney and mayor Bruce Bailey, had a group text and Gunter was angry and felt he had been misquoted in the article. Gunter had not reached out to myself or Richard Crabbe with any issue regarding the article.

I was out of town but was concerned because the statement that he would need to be bailed out of jail indicated he may have been planning to do something that would get him arrested. I called the Wilkes County Sheriff and filed a report so there was a record of what I knew, in the event something were to happen. I contacted Crabbe and asked him if Gunter had reached out to him and he said he had not. I asked Crabbe if there could have been any misunderstanding in Gunter saying he was considering rescinding his vote. Crabbe replied "there was no ambiguity." I have never had an issue with accuracy in Richard Crabbe's reporting and he is a seasoned professional in the field of news reporting.

On Thursday I sent an open records request to Bailey, all members of council and city clerk Debbie Bazemore requesting the text messages from the previous day where Gunter said he was going to my house. I did this so I could better understand the context of the text conversation and to prevent making assumptions. Bailey responded the same day saying he would have the records to me by Friday pending any delays. On Thursday night I was made aware that Bailey had posted the text messages I had requested, on his public Facebook page. He had not sent them to me at that point. I read them and was able to see Gunter's text message. I also saw that Bailey and councilman Andy Anderson gave a "thumbs up" emoji to the comment about going to my house and possibly needing to be bailed out of jail. Bailey also assured Gunter that they (city council members) "have his back." Councilman Cullars Sr. sent a "thumbs down" emoji.

There was also discussion about deBin and vote rescinding. Specifically councilman Maceo Mahoney said of rescinding a vote and deBin staying in his role as city administrator "We are asking for the biggest lawsuit and/or walkout." This statement and the text messages indicate city employees shared things that were done by deBin that are concerning enough for the city to be sued. The city council and mayor have not shared the reasons why they voted to ask for deBin's resignation. This is not information that is required to be private.  You can see the messages in full below this article.

Also in the text messages, Bailey told councilmen "Less conversation and united positive action should be our new motto, everything you text, email or print is public record. If you have verbal conversations ask if you are being recorded because "legally" they must inform you or not use it."  Bailey is incorrect about this. Georgia law is a one party law meaning one person participating in a conversation can record the conversation without telling the other. Someone cannot record a conversation they are not participating in, without asking permission. 


It is worth noting that any meeting, even via text or phone of a quorum of 4 or more members of the governing body where city business or policy are discussed is required to follow open meetings law. This means there is to be notice made to the public so they can attend the meeting, meeting minutes need to be taken and any decisions made must be made by public vote. It appears this text "conversation" is a violation of law. 


Georgia law states:

 Any person knowingly and willfully conducting or participating in a meeting in violation of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00. Alternatively, a civil penalty may be imposed by the court in any civil action brought pursuant to this chapter against any person who negligently violates the terms of this chapter in an amount not to exceed $1,000.00 for the first violation. A civil penalty or criminal fine not to exceed $2,500.00 per violation may be imposed for each additional violation that the violator commits within a 12 month period from the date that the first penalty or fine was imposed.


Richard Crabbe said of his interview with Gunter "We had a ten-minute conversation at the Senior Center at about 1:15 June 12 while the yard sale was going on. I asked him if he wanted to discuss the decision Monday night, without revealing any details of the executive session and I told him the rumor was going around that he might consider rescinding his vote. He plainly indicated that it was something he was considering. Below are the notes Crabbe transcribed as he returned home, a two minute drive from the Senior Center. Newt Gunter conversation:

(In person conversation 1:30PM June 12 @ Wilkes Senior Center)

Gunter says he’s “considering” rescinding his vote on the deBin resignation. He feels that the issue might have been “pushed through too fast” and that he felt rushed when the vote came up in open council following the executive session. He was not able to give specifics of the closed session, but did say they heard from a number of city hall employees. Gunter says he feels sorry for deBin because “now he doesn’t have a job”, and he believes deBin “might deserve a second chance.” On the question of a second vote on the resignation issue, “we might have to wait two months until August and that’s probably too long,” or have a special called meeting to reconsider.
“I got out there and everything was a little rushed, so I just decided to go along with the others. At first I thought it might be a tie vote and the Mayor would break the tie, so I was kind of surprised the way it went.” Gunter now believes they should have voted to put the Administrator on “administrative leave”


I have said many times that if anyone feels anything published in the Washington Wilkes Informer is inaccurate, they should contact us using our contact form and we will review any evidence provided and print a retraction.


Written by Michelle Chaffee


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