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Restaurant owner gets $1.7M over claim of city harassment

April 24, 2021 GMT

STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. (AP) — The mayor and two city council members in an Atlanta suburb are calling for a fellow council member to resign after the city agreed to pay $1.7 million to a restaurant owner who said the council member harassed him.

Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford and council members LaKeisha Gantt and John Blount all say that Elton Alexander should step down.

The city’s insurer agreed to pay the money to a barbecue restaurant owner. Arick Whitson filed a lawsuit claiming Alexander repeatedly retaliated against Whitson’s restaurant when Whitson declined to give Alexander a free meal. The city and Alexander deny wrongdoing,

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not personal,” WAGA-TV reported Gantt said at a news conference Friday. “This is $1,725,000 to a victim who has been ridiculed.”

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In a letter released Wednesday night, Ford said Alexander has been subject to a “continuous pattern of disciplinary actions” in his five years on the government body and should step down “for the betterment, the bright future and growth of the city of Stockbridge.”

Ford wrote that Alexander has been given a letter of caution from the council over concerns about his behavior, been censured twice and been investigated.

“Recent actions due to the legal outcome of the BBQ Masters litigation and the $1.725 million awarded to the plaintiff, Arick Whitson, has brought shame to the city of Stockbridge and to the elected body of the Stockbridge municipal government,” Ford wrote, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At a news conference Friday, Gantt and Blount echoed that call in a news conference that ended in a shouting match with Alexander’s supporters.

“This cannot continue,” Blount said Friday, calling on the city to investigate Alexander. “And I ask the city of Stockbridge, I ask all elected officials to look deeply at what the citizens want and what this city needs.”

Alexander said he doesn’t plan to resign and notes he was reelected after the allegations emerged.

“My only desire is to bring joy, happiness, and prosperity to the city I love,” Alexander said in a statement Friday. “God’s lesson is to trust in him and take the high road even when confronted with a media firestorm. I take personal responsibility for this distraction and apologize for the negative attention it has caused.”

At least two people who appeared to support Alexander got into an argument with the two council members following the news conference.