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Suit filed against Prince, David, Copeland and Tobar

Former Grady County Commissioner Charles Renaud has filed suit in Grady Superior Court against the three current county commissioners and county administrator who acted to bar him from county commission meetings for six months.
A contingent of Grady County Sheriff’s Office personnel greeted Renaud when he arrived to attend a joint meeting of the county commission and Grady County Lake Authority last Tuesday, Dec. 12, and served him with a notice of trespass signed by Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar.
Much later, the commissioners discussed the barring and voted in a public meeting 3-2 to bar the former commissioner from the commission meetings for a period of six months. Commission Chairman Ray Prince, Vice Chairman T.D. David and Commissioner LaFaye Copeland voted in favor of the barring and Commissioners Keith Moye and June D. Knight opposed.
Renaud, in his legal challenge, questions how the decision to bar him was made outside of a public meeting. He also says his rights under federal and state law have been violated.
The commission’s action followed a Dec. 5 meeting during which Renaud became visibly upset and shouted comments to the commission before being escorted out of the board room by a Grady County Sheriff’s deputy.
Last week, Vice Chairman David stated, “We can’t allow someone to interrupt our meeting in such a threatening way. It’s intolerable.”
Renaud’s suit does not challenge the board’s right to have him removed on Dec. 5, however his attorney, K. Todd Butler, is challenging the commissioners’ authority to bar a citizen from a public meeting.
According to public records, the sheriff’s deputy who served Renaud the trespass notice outside of the meeting room on Dec. 12 is calling foul.
In his report, Deputy Clay S. Murphy states that before the Dec. 12 meeting Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar told him he wanted a trespass notice served on Renaud and also stated that Tobar said the board had “voted” and “passed” the barring of Renaud for six months.
It was only when Murphy heard the board discuss the matter after a joint meeting with the Grady County Lake Authority that he said he learned he had been misled by Tobar.
The lawsuit filed this week claims Tobar “was acting in conspiracy with, or as the agent of, each of the defendant commissioners, or some of them” when he executed the notice of trespass.
In addition to being disruptive, Chairman Prince has stated publicly that some of those in attendance at the Dec. 5 meeting were “scared” by Renaud’s outburst and questioned their safety in the meeting room.
Officials have alleged that surveillance video shows that Renaud poured out his cup of coffee in the foyer of the courthouse as he departed the meeting room on Dec. 5.
On Tuesday night, Commissioner Moye requested the surveillance video from that day be shown publicly. However, County Clerk Carrie Croy said she had sought legal advice about releasing the video. The Cairo Messenger last Friday made an Open Records request under Georgia law to obtain a copy of the video, but had not received a response as of presstime.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley asked Croy who she had consulted about the video and noted for the record he had not been consulted.
Croy indicated she had contacted the Association County Commissioners of Georgia for legal advice.
Cauley said it has been his experience that ACCG refers county officials to the county attorney and the county attorney could then seek counsel from the ACCG legal department if needed.
“I would just advise you to be very careful who you seek legal advice from and make sure you are obtaining legal opinions from actual attorneys,” Cauley said.
Deputy Murphy, in a supplement to his Dec. 12 report, states he viewed the video with Tobar and he wrote, “While watching the video several times, I believe Mr. Renaud did not intentionally spill his coffee, but accidentally knocked his cup over in his hand, as he was exiting the doors from the board meeting.”
As of Tuesday of this week, Chairman Prince was the only commissioner to have been shown the video by Tobar.
On Thursday during a special called meeting, county commissioners discussed rescinding their barring action.
Vice Chairman David said he was prepared to rescind his motion to bar Renaud. He said the board’s action was taken to “prove a point” and “make an example” of Renaud.
David predicted that barring Renaud would become a “media circus” and would not be beneficial.
Chairman Prince said he agreed but requested the board meet with Renaud before rescinding the barring action.
“We need to have him come in and talk with him and have an understanding. I don’t want to bar anyone from a meeting, but we just need to talk to him,” Prince said.
“So we’re not going to do anything now?” David asked to which Chairman Prince stated, “Let’s just talk to him before we vote. Sit down with him and talk like adults.”
A special called meeting was scheduled late Monday afternoon to be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, but on Tuesday afternoon it was canceled.
According to Renaud, the board had sought to meet with him and his attorney behind closed doors to discuss the matter. The former county commissioner said that he and his attorney chose not to meet due to not knowing who would be representing the county if discussions lasted on into 2018 since the board had solicited proposals for legal services.
Renaud said there were also questions about whether such a closed-door meeting including him and his attorney with the board would be legal.
Attorney Butler said, “The Dec. 12 proceeding was a violation of Mr Renaud’s right to due process because he did not have opportunity to confront his accusers, he did not have opportunity to speak in his own defense or present evidence in his favor, and he did not have opportunity to be heard by the Board on the punishment that it imposed.”
The complaint filed Tuesday asks the Court for an injunction restraining the Defendant Commissioners from barring Renaud from commission meetings. The complaint also seeks a jury trial and a judgment for Renaud‘s damages and for punitive damages.

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