Mayor Stuart on the stand (Marc McAfee, 11Alive News)
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. -- Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart is coming under fire, as several city council members try to force him out.
With five Henry County Police officers looking on, Stuart took the witness stand in a special meeting Monday in the city council chambers.
Structured more like a trial, the hearing was called to present evidence prior to a council vote on whether the mayor should be unseated.
Extra security was requested for the hearing, which is expected to last up to 10 hours.
Council members hired attorney Chris Balch to look into allegations Stuart was misusing funds, releasing sensitive information, and creating a hostile work environment. Balch says after interviewing witnesses and reviewing 2,000 documents, he found seven violations of the city's charter.
A former Fulton County Superior Court judge is presiding over the hearing as council members look on. The Mayor's supporters point out that the very council he's accused of dividing will vote on his ouster. They also hired the man who presented the evidence on which they'll vote. Many have already spoken publicly against the mayor.
"That I think is very unfair, and I don't think that they should be wasting our taxpayer money without having a referendum to see if they should be," said supporter Carrie Wright.
Stuart took office three years ago and has butted heads with the council over how to run the town of 25,000. One of the biggest clashes was over his suggestion to keep a couple dozen goats year round to eat the city's kudzu, instead of using city workers to remove it.
After Stuart took the witness stand Monday, he was asked by Balch whether city rules allow him to monitor employee emails.
"It doesn't say I can, it doesn't say I can't," Stuart said.
"You are familiar with something called the Fourth Amendment, right?" Balch replied, referencing Constitutional protection against unlawful searches.
When former councilwoman Kathryn Gilbert was called to the witness stand, she said she often heard Stuart tell female employees, "There's too much estrogen in City Hall."
She also said Stuart had called another city employee in her presence, "A fat, lazy old hag."
Stuart has sizable support in the chambers, with two dozen residents holding signs saying "Citizen support for Mayor Stuart." Cheers and applause have broken out from supporters at objections raised by Stuart's lawyer, who tried to quiet the outbursts himself.
"He's really trying to put a lot of effort into our community from youth to veterans to just making Stockbridge a better place to live," supporter Elyssa Green said.
Lee is speaking to the public through his attorney, who says they plan to carry on with a lawsuit against the city no matter what the council votes to do.