Members of the Cumming City Council approved a resolution against one of their own after information given during council meeting executive sessions became public.
At a meeting on Tuesday, July 6, members of the Cumming City Council approved a resolution by a 4-0 vote, with Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter abstaining, to not formally censuring Ledbetter but bring“this issue to the attention of the public” after she reportedly shared information from executive sessions with a tenant renting a city building. Ledbetter had reportedly previously asked what could be done to censure her.
The item was not advertised and was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.
The resolution stated, “that while unauthorized disclosure of executive session discussion hurts the city when it comes to the city’s negation of matters… [the council] trusts that Councilwoman Ledbetter understands this, and will refrain from disclosing to the public matters that are properly discussed in confidence in executive session for the city’s benefit.”
City Attorney Kevin Tallant said that information from executive sessions – portions of meetings where only matters like litigation, land use and personnel can be discussed out of the public eye – can hurt the city’s bargaining positions if released.
“I would ask everyone to please realize that in drafting this, there is nothing of the details of [the city’s] lease negotiations that was disclosed,” he said. “I think it is important to remember that because it could do damage to the city. If I’m going to buy a car somewhere, and I tell my neighbor what I’m willing to pay for the car, and the neighbor goes and tells somebody at the car dealership what I’m willing to pay, I’ve lost my ability to effectively negotiate.”
According to the resolution and comments from the meeting, Ledbetter reportedly shared information from an executive session with officials with the Col. Hiram Parks Bell Southern History and Genealogy Research Center, which previously rented space from the city on Atlanta Highway.
Per the resolution, Ledbetter stated she was on the board of the Bell Center, which “could not afford the monetary consideration which would be requested by the city.” The resolution said this was the first time she had ever claimed to be on the board, she later denied saying she was involved with the center and “the city was not able to determine if she in fact was or is affiliated” with the center.
After “it became obvious to the city administrator that someone who was in the closed executive session” gave information center officials, at a later meeting, city officials were informed someone had released the information and “to convey the seriousness of the matter, the entire council was reminded such actions could be considered official malfeasance, which could ultimately result in the impeachment and removal from office,” the resolution said.
“After the foregoing was explained, Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter admitted that it was she who breached the privilege and confidentiality of executive session, and discussed the lease of real property with Bell Center representatives,” the resolution said. “There was no further discussion of the matter, not any discussion about impeachment or removal of any member from the council, including Councilwoman Ledbetter.”
Following the meeting, the discussions between the city and the Bell Center fell through.
City leaders then began to discuss the potential sale or lease of the property, including a possible use with Forsyth County, and “shortly after this direction was given, third parties who were not in the closed executive session began to ask questions of the city about the lease or sale options,” which the report said showed someone had again given information from executive sessions, which Ledbetter also said had been her.
“The city believes that disclosure of closed executive session discussions in both of those instances hampered the city’s ability to effectively negotiate for the best interests and outcomes of the city of Cumming,” the resolution said.
The resolution said the city council did not plan to take any official action “believing that the matter would no longer be a problem” and thereafter, Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter asked what she could do to have the city council censure her.
During the meeting, Ledbetter said that she had not discussed particulars of the lease agreement with Bell Center officials and she had only said the plan was for the center to move out of the building.
“First, I feel that we need some transparency on this particular subject,” Ledbetter said. “My telling of the phrase that was spoken in [the executive] session of this contract has nothing to do with the city losing or gaining any money. It had nothing to do with the contract in which the city could possibly lose money over. No amount money was mentioned, no amount of contract money was mentioned, it was simply that the city, the mayor, wanted these people out of this building.”
Ledbetter said she thought it was “beneath” the city to not inform the group of the plan, that it should not have been brought up in executive session and she had concerns about what would happen to the group’s materials, including 33,000 history books.
She said she probably won’t go into executive sessions in the future because she feels like she has been treated “very unfairly, and I feel that it’s because I’m a woman and because I’m old and because [the mayor] thinks I won’t fight back. Well, he’s wrong.”
There was also disagreement in the meeting between Mayor Troy Brumbalow and Ledbetter as to whether he specifically said she could face consequences or if he generally went over the potential penalties of releasing information given in executive session.
Ledbetter said that she requested the censure “so that I can tell everybody just how ugly and how awful [Brumbalow] has been to me.”
Brumbalow pushed back against the claim that he had targeted Ledbetter.
“By a show of hands, as I’ve been accused of, raise your hand if I said I would have Linda Ledbetter impeached… everyone is saying I didn’t say that,” Brumbalow said. “You’ve got eight people sitting here, elected officials and a judge… so now, of those people in the executive session, raise your hand if I said I’d put her in jail… let the record show no one [raised their hand.]”
Other members of the city council said they believed the warning was in general and not directed at any member.
Reached after the meeting, Ledbetter said she believed the matter was set up to embarrass her and as payback for her voting against a recent city annexation of a total of 43 acres on both sides of Canton Highway for a mixed-use project being developed by Hopewell Group, LLC. and objections of costs from the Cumming City Center, which is located beside the annexed land.
“[The censure] had been discussed before with the other [councilmembers] and I just felt that I was really, really blindsided by the whole thing,” Ledbetter said. “And I was really hurt that everybody in [the meeting] had taken part in this farce and had done it to me.”
Ledbetter said she thought that the other council members “had to be” aware of the censure before the meeting.
“Why bother doing it if you’re not going to censure me?” she said. “Why bother doing it? To embarrass me.”
Brumbalow said after the meeting that it was “utterly ridiculous” that the resolution was payback or personal.
“This has been going on for months and months, and she called the city administrator asking how she could get the city council to censure her,” the mayor said. “So, we were taken back by that, that an elected official would actually ask, ‘How can I get reprimanded publicly?’ So, the council decided, instead of censure, they would handle it with a resolution, but the fact of saying this is personal is utterly ridiculous.”
Brumbalow said he was not aware Ledbetter had been the source of the information until the penalties were discussed.
When asked if any future action was planned, Brumbalow said “as far as myself and the city council, that’s the end of it."
“She said she won’t attend any other executive session meetings, so if that’s the case, then we can trust that when we’re negotiating things that we can negotiate in the city’s best interest, then we won’t have to worry about those things becoming public prematurely,” he said. “That’s the oath of office that we take, is that we do everything in the best interest of the city, and when you’re going with the tenant that you’re trying to negotiate a lease with and telling them what the city council is debating, that’s not the best interest of the city, that’s official malfeasance.”
Ashlyn Yule contributed to this report.