Letter from the Editor-Ethics Complaint Update

Published on 7 July 2024 at 20:19

I received an email today from the city attorney, Adam Nelson and the mayor, Bruce Bailey stating the council had decided they want Bailey, Nelson and city councilman Newton Gunter to have a meeting with me to discuss the ethics complaint I filed against Gunter, councilman Andy Anderson and Bailey. My response was to ask for evidence the council as a whole had decided to not follow their ethics complaint policy and instead have a meeting with two of the people the complaint was filed against and the city attorney. The city attorney replied that the meeting didn’t mean the ethics complaint wouldn’t move forward but it was to discuss the complaint and “communication moving forward.” 


I went back and listened to the special city council meeting that was held last week on July 3rd and recorded by Richard Crabbe and it was quite enlightening. You can listen to audio of the meeting here. Councilman Nathaniel Cullars Sr. brought my complaint up in an effort, he said, to make sure it was being handled properly. In the meeting, councilman Maceo Mahoney suggested the mayor, Gunter and the city attorney try to meet with me and stated that the city had important things to deal with. He did also say that he didn’t mean that the complaint I filed wasn’t important but, it was clear to me, it isn’t important enough to simply follow the policy on handling ethics complaints that is in the city municipal code. Councilman Anderson agreed with Mahoney to try and have a meeting but didn't agree to attend even though he is named in my complaint as well. There was input from Nelson stating that former Washington citizen and candidate for mayor, Angela Booker’s complaint in February of 2023 which was made against the former mayor Bill deGolian and councilman Anderson, former councilmen Charles Wagner and Matt Denard, was divided into separate complaints and dismissed by the investigative committees.  This complaint decision was never discussed publicly. It was never made public who was assigned to investigate these complaints and when I made an open records request for this information, I was told I would be charged for it. Charged for information that should have been public and instead was swept under the rug. Booker said she was never made aware that her complaint had been dismissed. You can view the complaint by scrolling down to the February 2023 articles on the Top Stories page of the Informer. 


Mahoney said several times in the meeting that the city was putting out “many fires” yet, the citizens aren’t made aware of what these fires are. The mayor is sharing information on his public Facebook page but most of it is about records requests I make and he appears to get some glee out of posting and driving a narrative before the records I request, are provided to me. The mayor seems to believe he has some special privilege where open records are concerned but that is not the case.


Not everyone in Washington is on Facebook and if they are, just over 1000 follow his page. The majority of citizens are in the dark.


Councilman Larry Hill went a step further in the meeting to bring up the fact that he just found out they, as city councilman, don’t have any insurance provided in the event they might be “targeted” with an ethics complaint. He also thought it would be a good idea to talk to me rather than follow their ethics complaint procedure.


I can't help but recall prior ethics complaints made against councilman Cullars Sr. and Mahoney and how differently they were handled. Swift action was taken by then mayor deGolian.  He set up investigative committees pronto and something appearing much like a trial ensued. Heck, Mahoney had only been on the telephone when Cullars and the mayor had a yelling match where nobody was threatened I might add, and it was deemed enough to warrant a full ethics hearing. Mahoney hadn't even said anything during the altercation between Cullars and former mayor deGolian. It is clear to me there is a double standard and nobody even tries to pretend that isn't the case. 


Bailey said that the portion of the complaint I made against him for conducting a meeting in private and discussing city business would have to include all members of council and that city business wasn’t discussed other than the severance package of the city administrator. In fact, the whole of the text chat was city business. The mayor was instructing the council on how to avoid talking to the media and that it wasn’t appropriate for Gunter to talk to Richard Crabbe about considering rescinding his vote regarding former city administrator Jerry deBin’s resignation. He talked about the council being a united front and wrongly told them they couldn't be recorded unless they were told by a reporter. All of it was city business aside from councilman Newt Gunter stating he was going to my home  and may need to be bailed out of jail as a result. You can see the text exchange for yourself here. 


I will not participate in a meeting with an individual who made a threat against me and another who continually maligns my character on his mayoral Facebook page because I make records requests that I have every right to make, by law.  Who states publicly that he instructs the city clerk to provide documents to me that if he instructed her not to, they both would be breaking the law and facing fines and jail time.


If the city is putting out so many fires and my ethics complaint is such a pointless distraction, maybe the mayor should stop spending so much time focused on what records requests I make and make sure he is actually getting information out to the citizens. Most don’t know Jerry deBin hasn’t accepted the severance package or that there is an urgent need to do a forensic audit that will cost the city at least $20,000. There was vague mention in the meeting of some contracts the city is obligated to pay that they didn’t know about but no details were provided.


People still want to know what deBin did that warranted such swift action. It brings up many questions such as why the mayor and council seemed to be in the dark on these things. I know for a fact they all knew deBin wasn’t providing me the records he should have for six months because I copied them all on my responses to deBin. I implored them to share the information I was requesting about the utility deposits if they had it because they too were bound by open records law but not one of them even responded until Cullars decided to go to city hall and ask for what I had been requesting, days before the June city council meeting.


In less than three days after this, city clerk Debbie Bazemore provided her resignation stating a significant reason was how the utility deposits had been handled.  She and city employees wanted to talk to mayor and council about other issues with deBin. It’s good action was finally taken but what has been the cost of the inaction for so long?


Now the city council and mayor are so busy managing the fallout that an ethics complaint made by a woman who a city councilman indicated he may harm and the mayor and other councilman encouraged, is just not important enough to deal with right now. The mayor, in fact, continues to rile up the 100 or so haters on his Facebook page and apparently gets off on the ever more creative names I am called and ways I can be harmed or run out of town. It's getting old for everyone else.


The council is right, this could have been resolved without an ethics complaint. I didn’t rush to that action. I waited for apologies but none came.

A simple “I was angry but that was unprofessional and I’m sorry” would have gone a long way, not only for me but to the thousands of citizens who think this behavior does matter. Who see the mayor continue to use his Facebook page as a public vendetta for someone who back in October dared to write about two lawsuits he faced in the past .  There are citizens who actually worry about what the 10,000+ people outside of Washington who read what I write, and what they think about their town.


The council can do what they will with my ethics complaint, I and others will watch and see how it unfolds.


Written by Michelle Chaffee

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April Puccetti
4 days ago

We're watching from Alabama.

Royce Bufford
4 days ago

This whole thing is so silly and has gone completely out of hand. Ya’ll just need to talk it out. It’s also very one sided. These articles are causing a lot of racism tension and division in our once peaceful community. Just stop all the whining and for goodness sake, Newt Gunter couldn’t hurt a flee. Get over it.

fred dunn
4 days ago

It all began with requests for open records, and it has persisted for far too long. In defense of the mayor, it must be acknowledged that he is new to the role and may not be fully aware of all aspects of city operations. However, he has access to knowledgeable individuals within the city, such as the city attorney and senior council members, who can provide guidance in accordance with the law. When faced with difficult decisions, it is essential to seek advice from these experienced individuals.

Certain actions may be unpopular, but they are part of the responsibilities that come with the job. The city and its residents may not be accustomed to someone who is well-versed in citizen rights, which can create issues. It is crucial to adhere to the established rules and city charter, and then move forward. While it may not be possible to please everyone, following the law is paramount.

Josh S.
4 days ago

You are far from a journalist and I think it’s disrespectful to real journalists to call yourself one. You are a blogger. You have the right to call yourself anything but that doesn’t make it true. When you have the credentials and the track record with peers calling you a journalist, then you can believe you are a journalist. Maybe your an aspiring journalist? A blogger is an independent writer who writes based on emotions and opinions. I do know what is true though...You are the #1 blogger in Wilkes County. Congrats. I don’t have Facebook but I’m not in the dark. Word of mouth spreads. Stop being so one sided. It’s giving desperate, obsessed and miserable. This feels like someone with mental health issues crying out for help. All you have to do is just ask and we will get you the help you need.

jessie williamson
4 days ago

No city councilman indicated harm may come to you. saying he may need to be bailed out has no implication of harm to you. You have been wrongfully attacking the mayor and council for awhile to no avail. now you are reading into a text things that aren't there trying again to divide. please get positive attention rather than all this negative attention as God loves you even if you are not satisfied with yourself. be positive and get some peace with yourself.

Sarah B.Bingham
4 days ago

I do not live in the city but did for 40yrs. I find a lot of your complaints are petty. It is also another reason we are not attracting new business. You seem to enjoy stirring up trouble. If you find things so bad at city hall then why don't you run for office. I know Mr. Gunter personally and you Nick picking what he said or didn't say . I hear y'all are neighbors and why didn't you go to his house and ask what he said. Sounds like you have to much time on your hands. Why don't you volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels. We always need volunteers and it's very rewarding.Hope you will consider helping.

Kelli A Lewis
3 days ago

I was born ans raised in Washington, GA. I left for almost 20 years and returned in 2014. I left with my son in 2021 because of racial issues in the town, the school system and by citizens. So, who was it peaceful for? I'm disappointed in the behavior of people leading the city. There are citizens in my hometown who are terrified of change, but change is necessary.