Sunlight optional – Avondale info hard to find

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 15, 2014


The city of Avondale Estates is hard to figure out these days.

Even simple questions prove difficult to answer. This month the city cancelled the regular meeting and work session of the city commission. The next regular city commission meeting won’t occur until June 23.

City Manager Clai Brown didn’t respond when asked why the regular meeting was cancelled. Brown and Mayor Ed Rieker have been difficult to reach lately. Rieker hasn’t responded to multiple emails and phone messages since April 15. Brown has only issued short responses via emails. Communications Manager Kelly Brooks, who was recently hired and makes $55,000 a year according to city records, says she isn’t allowed to talk to the media, and that all comments must come from Rieker, who won’t return messages. has filed several records requests to obtain basic information regarding routine operations of the city’s government. One records request sought emails pertaining to the cancellation of the two meetings and any draft agendas that might exist. Another records request sought the name, job description and salary info of Avondale Estates employees. The city responded to both on May 15.

On May 2, Brown wrote to Mayor Rieker informing him that, “The Willis Park draft renderings will not be ready for the upcoming work session” and that there would be no agenda items for May 8. He said he would cancel the work session.

A draft of the work session agenda contains two items listed as, “North Woods Rain Garden RFP” and “City Branding.”

A few hours later on May 2, Rieker responded to Brown’s email about cancelling the work session.

“Yes, please cancel the meetings,” he wrote. “The work session and regular meeting for this month.”

On May 4, City Clerk Juliette-Sims Owens sent an email to the city commissioners informing them the May 8 meeting was cancelled “due to no agenda items.” On May 8, six days after Rieker suggested cancelling both meetings, she sent commissioners an email informing them the May 12 regular meeting was cancelled, but she didn’t give a reason. The draft agenda for the May 12 meeting shows “pending” listed under “New business.” The draft May 12 agenda also includes items for approving the prior meeting minutes, updates from Brown and city commissioners and an opportunity for public comments.

City attorney Stephen Quinn said there was no single document containing the name, job description and salary of each employee. Under the Georgia open records law, governments do not have to provide records that don’t exist.

“However,” Quinn said via email. “Names and payroll information for employees, as well as job descriptions, are available in separate documents.”

The city responded by providing a list with the names of all employees, without job titles, and their hourly wage, without salaries.

When asked for the rest of the information, Quinn says the city has no official list that includes all of its employees and their job titles.

“You asked for ‘job descriptions’ and received them,” Quinn said. “The term ‘job description’ refers to a position, not an individual.  It sounds from your latest email that you really wanted to know the ‘job title’ for each individual.  The city does not maintain a list of all employees with their job titles.”

He said the city doesn’t have any record showing the annual salary for each employee.

“The City does not maintain a record showing the annual salary for each employee,” he said. “In order to convert the hourly pay figures you were provided to annual salary, please multiply the hourly number by 40 (hours per week) and multiply the resulting number by 52 (weeks per year).” He said there were two exceptions: Judge Steve Nicholas and City Solicitor Josie Stevens are part time employees.

Based on Quinn’s response and information on the city’s website, here are the estimated annual salaries for each employee whose job title could be identified:

City Manager Clai Brown – $156,249

Finance Director Ken Turner – $90,000

City Clerk  Juliette Sims-Owens – $46,155

City Planner and Community Development Officer Keri Stevens – $79,144

Communications Manager Kelly Brooks – $54,995

Municipal Court Clerk Marcella Shaw – $41,600

Administrative Assistant Karen Holmes – $41,017

Director of Public Works Bryan Armstead – $74,235

Code Enforcement Officer Caryl Albarran – $43,846

Parks and Recreation Supervisor Oscar Griffin – $42,536

Sanitation Supervisor Harold Anderson – $54,100

Police Chief Gary Broden – $81,286

Judge Steve Nicholas – $15,000 (Note: Hourly wage is the highest listed, at $104.17 per hour).

City Solicitor Josie Stevens – $9,600 (Note: Hourly wage is the second highest listed, at $66.67 per hour.)

Due to the lack of information from the city, Decaturish has filed additional records requests in an attempt to cover the city’s government. One request asked for electronic copies of the minutes for the city commission and the city’s Downtown Development Authority going back to Jan. 1, 2006. The city publishes electronic versions of the minutes of the city commission and the DDA on its website, but the records only go back to 2010 and the minutes aren’t available for all meetings.

Quinn said while the city does have electronic copies of the records, he said the cost to retrieve them would be $660.15.

“The electronic minutes are not maintained on the City’s server in a way that will be easy or quick to produce for you,” he said.

The attorney said Decaturish could inspect and review hard copies of the minutes at no charge.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Michele

    Very interesting. Thanks for the great investigative reporting.

  • TheDude

    Response to Recent Behavior by Blogging Site
    Please find below a copy of a letter from our City Attorney to the owner of a local blogging site in reference to recent behavior by the owner. Unfortunately he has recently been engaged in tactics that may be, or border on, cyber bullying in an attempt to extract information from residents, elected officials and city staff in order to produce content for his website.  

    Several weeks ago, after a tragic incident occurred in the City, this blogger repeatedly contacted certain residents to persistently push them to give him personal details regarding the event and the aftermath.  It was disappointing behavior to say the least and outside the norms for our community.

    Due to this blogger’s distasteful conduct we stopped responding to his requests for comments several weeks ago. As a result this blogger has recently initiated several Open Records Requests. Some of them are of a highly personal nature regarding residents and City employees. 

    I believe that the Open Records laws should not be used in a retaliatory manner. The City has and will continue its tradition of open government, complying with all laws and providing access to public records for inspection. However, as long as this distasteful behavior continues the City will decline to prioritize this blogger, and his requests for personalized content, over all of the other ongoing business of the City.


    Due to the public nature of this issue we felt it important to relay this information, along with a copy of the letter from the City Attorney. 




    Ed Rieker

    Mayor, City of Avondale Estates


    Click here to view a PDF of the
    City Attorney’s letter online


    May 16, 2014


    Re: City of Avondale Estates and the Open Records Act


    Dear Mr. Whisenhunt:


    This correspondence is in response to your email to the City of Avondale Estates’ City Clerk dated May 12, 2014 and your email to the City’s Communications Manager datedMay 13, 2014. In your emails you indicate that you intend to complain to the Attorney General regarding “how the Open Records Act is being used in the City of Avondale Estates.” You also indicate that you would prefer not to go through the formality of an Open Records Request and that you believe City officials should answer your questions at your convenience.


    Please be advised that the City of Avondale Estates is committed to open government and faithfully complies with the letter and the spirit of Georgia’s Open Records Act in all respects. The City takes exception to your implication that the City withheld some public document from you.


    Please know that your participation in a local news blog does not afford you any special rights or privileges beyond those enjoyed by all citizens of Avondale Estates and the State of Georgia. The Mayor and City Manager are under no obligation to have conversations with you and/or answer your questions. However, they have attempted to address your questions and will continue to do so if approached in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time.


    Furthermore, I believe that if you speak with citizens of Avondale Estates you will find both Mayor Rieker and Mr. Brown are known for being incredibly open and candid with the City’s citizens. Perhaps you would find these gentlemen to be more forthcoming with you if you make an effort to treat them with the respect that they deserve rather than taking the unprofessional tone observed in your communications with City officials.


    Very truly yours,




    Robert E. Wilson

    City Attorney, City of Avondale Estates





    Stefan Ritter, Senior Assistant Attorney General

    Mayor Ed Rieker

    Clai Brown, City Manager

    Stephen G. Quinn, Esq.

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  • Laura

    I guess I’m confused as to why there is an issue here? Does the blogger have something specific he would like to obtain from the city for a particular reason? It sort of seems like he’s trying to pick a fight. We love living in Avondale Estates – you will not find the same level of community in any other part of the city, and you will certainly not find a city government that knows their citizens on sight and bends over backwards to keep them happy and safe. So what’s the beef?

  • Ben Horne

    What happened to Mayor Ed’s response below (TheDude)? Did you erase it Dan? Or did Ed?

    • I don’t know why that was erased (it wasn’t my doing), but I have published Mayor Rieker’s email in a separate post.

  • Ben, what initiated this was an inability to get answers to basic questions, like “Why was the meeting cancelled?” and “What does the city pay a communications manager who is not allowed to talk to the media?” I try to keep readers apprised of how its government responds to questions.

    • Ben Horne

      The Communications Manager thing is bizarre. I hope this gets resolved soon–I like Decaturish and I like Mayor Ed. I also hate to see what I think is a promising city government in what seems to be disarray. :/

      • I have invited city officials to address whatever concerns they have with me at any time.

  • neighbor

    Lower your expectations, silly haters! I have found it is much easier to understand AE if you realize it is just a really just a big, scared, self-righteous homeowner’s association … and not a REAL city. Any doubts? Try being a person of color feeding ducks at the lake for more than 10 minutes on any given Sunday. The Avondale Mall Cops will be all over your business .. . Even if you live in the neighborhood.

    • TheDude

      Bitter much? It seems you, dear “neighbor” are the silly, scared, self-righteous hater w/expectations lowered to lower than low. AE is indeed a city, established in 1924. @ least you’re correct that people of color actually live in AE. In my many years of spending time @ the lake, “for more than 10 minutes on any given Sunday”, I’ve never witnessed Avondale’s Finest hassling me, or anyone else. I guess you must’ve been there during a different 10 minutes…if ever…

      • AEdude.

        Hey, TheDude. Let me guess. You’re not a person of color. By the way, how’s the history business?

  • Bill Elek

    Please explain the relevance (journalistic or otherwise) for publishing salary information for every front-office employee that works for Avondale Estates.

    • This is public information and people have a right to know how their taxpayer money is being spent.

  • Bill Elek

    So, is this timeline correct for the two issues contained in this blog post? The monthly City working session and meeting were cancelled for lack of anything on either agendas. You filed an Open Records request for access to the emails from City officials and employees regarding the reason(s) for the meeting cancellations. You additionally submitted an Open Records request or requests to obtain salary information. You subsequently posted that salary information for all City front-office employees.

  • Bill Elek

    Then upon hitting what could be described as “communication issue” you posted the salary information for every front-office employee that works for Avondale Estates.

    • Bill Elek

      Bueller…Bueller…no reply Dan? Just trying to understand the series of events prior to you post containing the salary info

      • The series of events are as I described it in the story. I asked for information and that is how the city responded.

        • Bill Elek

          …and as you’ve previously stated, “This is public information and people have a right to know how their taxpayer money is being spent.” So, your motivation for posting the salary information is purely in the spirit of “letting-the-public-know”which is very noble of you. My question is this, had you been informed as to why the City meetings were cancelled, would you have filed both of the Open Records Requests on 5/12?

          • I would’ve filed the one on salary information in either case. Hard to say what I would’ve done on the public meeting, because that’s a hypothetical. If I had believed the explanation to be insufficient, then yes I would’ve filed it. But as the city has already announced, it doesn’t intend to respond to any questions – no matter what they are. How would you suggest I gather information about the functions of Avondale’s government?

  • Gypsu

    Every public employees salary is a matter of public record. The State of Georgia lists all theirs on a website searchable by the persons name. We citizens of Avondale Estates have EVERY right to know where our money goes. Further, I am astonished at these salaries, not to mention the number of positions that exist in our city government.

  • Avondalish

    Dan. You are a hero. Exposing all of these evil politicians in Avondale Estates. Oh how I’ve been waiting on someone like to expose these shady folks that run our fair city.

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