Mayor, former housing director square off

Friday, February 23, 2007

At last Tuesday's Lewisburg City Council meeting, former Lewisburg Housing Authority Director Jerry Freeman requested an audience with the mayor and council to discuss what he claims to be "inflammatory and slanderous" remarks made about him by Mayor Bob Phillips. Freeman got that chance Tuesday in a special called meeting of the city council.

An unusual twist at the beginning  of the meeting set the tone for the anything but typical conducting of city business. A power outage in the City Hall building and a Planning Commission meeting being held in the second floor council room, forced the meeting to be held in the first floor lobby.

In what was at times, a heated exchange between Freeman and Phillips, the council sat silently, with at least one councilman covering his face periodically to cover laughter, while the two bantered for some 3o minutes without resolution.

The council was not alone in their snickers as many in the audience chuckled at times, especially when Freeman read Phillips, his Miranda rights. Phillips responded by saying "What, are you, a police officer now?"

Freeman's complaints against Phillips stem from a meeting two weeks ago between Lewisburg Housing Authority employee Tameika Harris, her father, and Phillips in which Freeman alleges that Phillips slandered him by telling the pair that he (Freeman)  stated in a deposition that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female employee while serving as executive director. Freeman's contract was not renewed by the housing authority board, four years ago.

According to Phillips, Harris, told him she makes $34, 900 at LHA and felt she should have received a "step raise" in addition to a cost of living raise. Phillips said he told Harris that he did not have any control over who did and did not receive raises at Lewisburg Housing Authority. Phillips said Harris told him that LHA board members "had it in for her" because she is close friends with Freeman. Phillips allegedly told Harris that the Board was justified in not renewing Freeman's contract if for no other reason, his relationship with a female staff member. Freeman denies giving statements in a deposition about his relationship with the woman.

The former Housing Authority Director asked the council "Are you ready to be sued for what your mayor is saying?"

Freeman said that a "young lady" had gone to the mayor to discuss a matter concerning her and that Phillips should have never mentioned him. "There was no need for you to even bring anything to your teeth about me", said Freeman adding "I'm here to tell you up front. You are not looking at a steer. You are looking at a bull." Phillips responded that he didn't want to hear anything about a steer or bull and called Freeman to order.

"My position for you, is to prove that your statement is correct. Lots of times you can say things. But when you are in your official position as mayor, you should be guarded and concerned that sometimes you can say things that puts the city in jeopardy or the city in risk of lawsuits", said Freeman.

Each member of the council had in hand, a copy of the portion of the deposition Phillips allegedly referred to in his conversation with Harris. In that deposition , Freeman was asked if he was having a sexual relationship with a female employee. Freeman responded, "No." According to the deposition, Freeman was then asked if he had in the past, had a sexual relationship with the female employee. Freeman answered, "In the past, we may have went further than we should have went."

"Is that while you were serving as executive director of the Housing Authority?" "Yes", replied Freeman.

Freeman said he never made those statements in his deposition. "What I'm saying is that paper you (Phillips) have there is not in my deposition", said Freeman. Phillips replied by asking Freeman if he knew what perjury meant. Freeman responded "What happens when someone takes that piece of paper and alters it?" and then challenged the legality of Phillips' appointments to the Housing Authority Board.

"Are you saying that all of your appointments to the Housing Authority Board were legal appointments under state and federal law?", asked Freeman. "As far as I know", replied Phillips. "If  you make an appointment, you are supposed to know whether they are legal appointments", said Freeman. City attorney Bill Haywood was asked about the legality of the mayor's appointments and he said that as far as he knew the appointments were legal. Phillips replied, " I'm not going to be lectured by you, Mr. Freeman."

"What I came here to tell you is that no matter what you say or what you do, or how you plant it, or how you construe it, or how you fix it, there is no weapon that is formed against me, that is going to prosper. And I come here to tell you for the citizens of this city that are tired of the mess that goes on down here. God has called up men who are not fearing, standing up against men in high places. Get ready because it is coming", said Freeman.

"What happen is you had a job paying you, what $60,000 a year? But four years ago you lost that job. In four years, that's a quarter of a million dollars that you have thrown away because you could not get along with your board", said Phillips. The mayor told Freeman that he would never talk to him again about the matter and that he would not speak with Harris about her "unhappiness".

Harris says the mayor had no right to publicly bring up her name and the conversation with him, that she considered to be private.