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Dawsonville mayor to appeal removal from office
James Grogan
James Grogan, Dawsonville Mayor

Ousted Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan has announced plans to appeal a Monday afternoon decision by the city council to remove him from office.

The 3-1 vote came on the wake of allegations that Grogan had misused city funds and unilaterally made decisions that violate the city charter, which were laid out in a hearing held by the council. 

Councilman Mike Sosebee was the lone dissenting vote.

The city council hired attorney Abbott Hayes in April to investigate Grogan's actions, which Hayes said he found were grounds for Grogan's removal.

Hayes presented a report of his findings during the hearing, a report he previously gave at the May 1 city council meeting.

The report alleged that Grogan reduced rezoning fees for five property owners who applied to annex five parcels of land into the city without council approval. The report states that the reduction in fees resulted in a loss to the city of $600.

The report also states that Grogan decided to reduce the amount that city property owner and state Rep. Kevin Tanner paid in water bills for a small property he owns downtown after Tanner complained to city employees about the excessive cost for water and sewer for the 448-square-foot building that he uses as storage and occasional office space.

The reduction made it so that Tanner paid a rate that aligned with residential usage as opposed to commercial usage, resulting in a cost savings of approximately $957.50 since May 2015.

Tanner was called to the stand as a witness by Grogan's attorney Steve Leibel. Leibel showed Tanner a water bill from August 22, 2016, and had Tanner read the amount of water usage listed.

"According to the bill, there is zero usage," Tanner said. The interaction was used to illustrate how little water is used at 67 Howard Avenue.

Tanner stood by his previous comments that he felt as a citizen and business owner, he had a right to complain about the rate.

"I just believed as a property owner that the rate was too high and I complained up the chain of command," Tanner said.

Also mentioned in the report is Grogan's approval of payment to nonprofit organizations, including golf tournaments in which he participated as player. The donations were approved between 2013 until the middle of 2015, when City Attorney Dana Miles advised the council not to make charitable donations on behalf of the city, and the funds were not included in any further budgets.

The donations totaled $6,444.55, of which $2,620 was for golf tournaments in which Grogan played.

Leibel attempted to turn the conversation from Grogan to the city council.

"Do you think it would have been important for you to investigate these folks as well as the mayor to determine whether or not the mayor should be, I'm sorry, not impeached, but removed?" Leibel asked Hayes.

"I have no opinion about importance," Hayes responded. "I was simply given a charge."

Grogan's purchases of alcohol and gas with a city issued credit card, though he was not reimbursed for those expenses, were also mentioned. The report states that Grogan appeared to use the credit card for alcohol, gas and family expenses totaling $6,252.05, charges that were deducted from his mileage checks.

In August of 2015, the council voted to move away from the municipality-issued credit cards and to a spending reimbursement system.

Grogan also authorized the purchase, with city credit cards, of four bottles of moonshine for door prizes to take to a Georgia Mountain Regional Commission dinner.

Leibel was quick to point out that the city hall shares a building, and lease, with a moonshine distillery.

The report also found that Grogan authorized payment for 55 meetings in 2013 and seven in 2014 without pre-approval by council, totaling $6,200 in payment to Grogan.

Hayes also presented more than 500 pages of documentation that he said back up the claims in his report.

Grogan said the hearing felt like a "kangaroo court," a phrase used to characterize a bogus court that fails to follow official legal procedure.

His lawyer agreed, lamenting several times that no rules were set for the hearing, and asking that both City Attorney Dana Miles and Councilman Jason Power be removed from the hearing due to conflicts of interest.

In attendance was city judge and attorney Ronald Reemsnyder, who rebuffed Leibel's attempts to remove Miles and Power. Reemsnyder explained that his role would not be to rule on the matter but to ensure a fair trial.

"Today's decision is solely a matter for the city council," Reemsnyder said. "I'm here just to make sure that the hearing is conducted fairly and that both parties have a full and fair hearing."

When the hearing concluded, Councilman Caleb Phillips made a motion to remove Grogan from office, and Councilwoman Angie Smith seconded the motion. It was passed with Council Member Mike Sosebee dissenting and Power, serving as Mayor Pro Tem, voting in favor of removal.

"It was unfortunate," Phillips said. "We looked at the events and the documents that were presented to us and based our decision on that."

Smith said it was a hard position for the council to be in.

"Everyone always says you have to do what you think is right, and that's what I did," Smith said. "It doesn't make it easy, but I felt after seeing all the presentations and evidence and the report in its entirety, I didn't think there was any other choice I could make."

Power said "it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life."

"My desire is to get back to taking care of city business without any distractions," Power said about moving forward.

Sosebee said only that he wished the council "could have handled it a different way than we handled it last night."

Officially booted, Grogan was absent from another hearing that night over zoning stipulations for the Atlanta Motorsports Park. His appeal, once filed with the superior court of Dawson County, would reinstate him in his seat until the proceedings conclude.

Grogan continues to insist that the actions of the council are a witch hunt and a grab for power, and said Tuesday that the decision was made before the hearing even began. 

"I'm proud of Mike Sosebee for doing what he did," Grogan said after the vote. "It feels like... the decision was made some time back to remove me and I don't know where this is coming from other than just a search for power. Somebody wants it and I hope they understand that power is something that is fleeting."

Grogan said he plans to appeal and that he has five days to do so. As of press time an appeal had not been filed with the superior court.