Future Hazy for Georgia Airports Director

Mayor Jack Ellis threatened to fire airports director George Brown if he didn't resign, according to a letter Brown distributed to Macon City Council members Wednesday.

Brown agreed to retire instead, according to the letter, but his future with the city remained in doubt Wednesday night as Brown prepared to consult with an attorney and appeal to the council. Ellis, through spokesman Ron Wildman, declined to comment on the situation Wednesday, the day after Wildman stated that Brown would indeed retire in January.

"(Ellis) told me he didn't want to say anything more about it. ... He thought they had a settlement," Wildman said.

Brown's letter lays out a timeline of the past week, starting with a Dec. 7 letter, which he states Ellis wrote him requesting his resignation. The Telegraph has requested that letter and a follow-up letter through the Georgia Open Records Act, but Wildman said that "as far as (the mayor is) concerned, those letters are personnel matters" and would not be immediately released.

After he received the letters, Brown said he was summoned to Ellis' office Tuesday morning. After some discussion, Ellis told him "that the options available to me at that time was to resign or be fired," Brown's letter states.

"You offered me about 30 seconds to think about the options and I immediately replied that I would not resign, you immediately responded 'You are fired!' " Brown's letter states. "You then directed (Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie) to get all the city property from me."

As he was leaving Ellis' office, Brown suggested that he retire instead and the mayor accepted the idea, Brown's letter states. Later that day, Wildman told The Telegraph and other media that Brown's retirement would be effective Jan. 15 and that it was voluntary. Brown would not confirm that Tuesday and complained in his letter that releasing news of his retirement "has made a public spectacle."

Brown said that he, Ellis and McDuffie were the only three people present at Tuesday's meeting. But Councilman Ed DeFore said Wednesday night that Ellis told him he had asked Brown to resign.

"My belief was if he didn't resign, the mayor was going to fire him," DeFore said.

Brown has managed the city's two airports since early 2004. He has overseen an overhaul of Middle Georgia Regional Airport, the larger of the two facilities, at a cost of more than $6 million in federal funding. But his tenure has also seen cuts in the number of flights to and from the airport. And last week Brown revealed that the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Aviation Administration had cited Middle Georgia Regional for 27 problems, which a TSA spokesman later said range from "less serious" to "very serious." Brown also acknowledged that not all airport contracts have been handled according to city protocol.

DeFore and other council members have also criticized Brown for a project to run utility lines to airport hangars. DeFore, in particular, has said that project is taking too long.

"I think (Brown is) a fine Christian man. ... But he wasn't, I thought, a forceful leader," DeFore said Wednesday.

Brown said Wednesday that he can't say whether he will retire. He said he wants to discuss the issue with an attorney, but he's not considering legal action.

"I'm going to present my case to the council," he said.

Macon Telegraph

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