Hartwell DDA Suspends Board Meetings

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia

The Hartwell Downtown Development Authority board is suspending its regular meetings for the time being.

That board has been at the center of a complaint filed by former Hartwell DDA Executive Director Mitch Skelton with the State Attorney General’s Office over the manner in which he was terminated last month.

Hartwell DDA Board Chair Gene Fraley said the board wants to resolve the complaint against it before meeting again.

“We feel that it would be a moot point at this time to have an executive board meeting when three board members are in question,” Fraley said. “We feel it’s better to get this matter resolved first. Then, we can proceed with our agenda and make sure we have the proper votes. We would rather have that matter resolved so we don’t have to go through this matter again.”

At its most recent scheduled meeting, which was cancelled, the Hartwell DDA board was expected to consider the renewal of Skelton’s contract, which expires at the end of December.

Fraley said the DDA is currently working with the State Attorney General’s Mediation Program to resolve the matter and move on.

“We are waiting for the State Attorney General’s office to set up a time to come in. We would like to resolve this in as quick a fashion as we can,” he said. “We think it is actually overshadowing the efforts of the DDA over the past several years. We have a tremendous amount of stuff on our agenda that we need to get accomplished and this is something that is absolutely taking way too much time.” 

Skelton had complained that the board fired him in a closed meeting and then asked him to keep his firing quiet in violation of the Georgia Sunshine law.

Fraley said he and the board are waiting to hear back from the State Attorney General’s office.

Fraley said the important thing now is for the Hartwell DDA to continue moving forward.

“We were not aware we had done anything wrong, until after the fact,” he said. “We’re darn sure willing to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, if we were acting inappropriately because that is not something we want to do.”

Fraley pointed to the many projects sponsored by the DDA that have renewed tourism and interest in the town.

“Our volunteers have worked their hearts out, and it’s amazing that they have to now go through all of this after all of their efforts,” he said. 

Fraley said that it will be a challenge in the future to keep DDA volunteers motivated.

However, he said the board members plan to continue working towards the goals they’ve set for downtown Hartwell.