Winder city councilwoman Holly Sheats is resigning, effectively immediately, in a move she said is due to her frustration with the city’s administration and the process in which the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget was adopted last week.
Sheats, who was in the middle of her first term on the council in one of the two citywide at-large seats, informed the council and Mayor David Maynard of her resignation late Sunday night, July 25, in a letter in which she said has “grave concerns” about the direction of the city under its current leadership and directly criticized Maynard and city administrator Mandi Cody.
“I understand and accept that I am not in the majority consensus, but I can no longer be part of a body whose missions, goals, and priorities I do not share,” Sheats wrote. “I most certainly don’t believe in the means to the desired end and cannot stand by and watch what happens next as a council member. I am deeply discouraged about the way our citizens have been recently treated and in my heart feel it is just wrong.”
Sheats’ resignation came on the heels of the council’s 4-2 vote July 20 — with councilman Jimmy Terrell and her opposed — to approve an FY22 budget that projects a doubling of the city’s millage rate. And it also comes as the council prepares to hold its first of three required public hearings on the proposed millage-rate increase at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 29. The other two hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, with a vote likely following the Aug. 3 hearing.
Sheats, who, in her resignation letter, described the budget process as a “disaster,” has been the most vocally critical member on the council about the budget in a handful of council meetings since mid-June, saying that the city was placing too much of a burden on its residents too quickly in order to help fund a list of priorities that the council has identified over the last several months.
She and Terrell have said the city should cut its proposed spending in several areas for the fiscal year, and Sheats has directed her strongest remarks against planned spending levels in the city’s planning department through the use of outside services in the absence of a planning director. Sheats has repeatedly noted that the city’s use of private firm at CPL for services without a council-approved contract is an “unethical” violation of the city’s purchasing policy.
The vote on the budget last week followed two lengthy council work sessions in June that resulted in little consensus about how high members were willing to go with a millage-rate increase, a July 1 work session a day after the mayor’s proposed budget with the doubled rate was publicly released, and a July 6 public hearing, with no further public meetings in the two-week span between the public hearing and vote on adoption.
The city has received substantial backlash from residents over its transparency surrounding the budget, with one resident saying last week that a four-page letter she sent to city officials with questions about the budget went unanswered prior to the adoption vote. Sheats said she herself had not received answers to additional questions she had emailed Cody and Maynard. Other residents have said the city, which was already three weeks late adopting an FY22 budget, rushed the process and did not provide the public adequate time to dissect it.
Sheats’ most scathing criticism in her resignation letter centered around Cody, whom she said “is not effectively managing the city.”
Cody was hired in June 2020 after a more than three-month search to replace former administrator Donald Toms and was selected over two other finalists to near-unanimous praise from the council, including from Sheats. But Sheats wrote that Cody’s “leadership skills are simply not adequate enough for her to build the loyalty and devotion city-wide she will need to execute the things she says she can” and that her managerial skills “are sorely lacking or questionable at best.”
“(The city’s human resources department) is being misused and is not functioning as it should to protect employees who have grievances,” Sheats wrote. “I fear this will result in future legal repercussions. I care about the staff we have remaining in this city and I can only hope (Cody) treats more than just a handful of favorites better than the ones who have chosen to leave employment with us. She will continue to deflect and blame others for her lack of time to accomplish tasks."
Sheats also said Maynard has refused to allow the council a “proper and formal opportunity” to participate in performance reviews for Cody.
Cody did not respond Monday, July 26, to a request for comment for this story, but Maynard defended her performance in an email.
"I am convinced that the majority of the council, including myself, feel that the city administrator is doing an excellent job and that the budget process implemented this year has been better than any other process we have used to develop a budget," Maynard said. "I appreciate Mrs. Sheats' service on the council."
Sheats, who was a city planning board member prior to her time on the council, was elected in 2019, and she and Ward 2 councilwoman Kobi Kilgore became the second and third women ever to serve on the council.
“Until the past few months, I have enjoyed my time serving this city as a council and planning Board member over the past five years. I want wonderful things for this city I love, and I hope to one day see those fulfilled,” Sheats wrote. “However, I care more about the people who live here than the aesthetic and physical aspects of the city. I am sure I can find capacities to serve in the community that will be a better fit for me. I hope in time the people who support me and voted for me will be able to forgive and understand that I can no longer sacrifice my time under the current conditions and in this dysfunctional environment.”
Maynard said Monday it was likely that a special election, to fill the remainder of Sheats' term through the end of 2023, would be held in November in conjunction with the regularly-scheduled city election, but he clarified Wednesday, July 28, that the seat would be filled by a council appointment for the remainder of the term. Details about that process are expected to be finalized in the coming days.
Councilmen Sonny Morris (Ward 1), Terrell (Ward 3) and Chris Akins (At-large) are all up for re-election this year. Candidate qualifying is set for Aug. 16-20.