Ashburn City Council, mayor torn on city manager’s future

Updated: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:48 PM EST
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ASHBURN, Ga. (WALB) - Tanita Norris, the Ashburn city manager, has been on administrative leave with pay for close to three months.

An open records request revealed the mayor placed Norris on leave following a police emergency call.

The city attorney said now there is a 3-3 tie among city leaders about Norris’ job future.

The Ashburn open records WALB News 10 received shows five incidents in 2019 and 2020 involving Ashburn City Manager Tanita Norris, her family and Ashburn police, which she supervises.

The latest incident happened on August 20, 2020, when Ashburn police received an emergency 911 call to Norris’ home around 8:15 p.m. because of shots fired.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was called in to investigate, but no arrests were made.

“There seemed to be multiple events where there was this conflict between the city manager and the police department,” said Ashburn City Attorney Tommy Coleman.

The next week, Norris was placed on administrative leave.

Ms. Norris’ attorney, Andrew Coffman, said the GBI exonerated her in its investigation. He said the conflicts come down to Norris being the boss over the police department.

“Well, quite honestly, some people did not like that, the chief being among them, don’t like being subject to the city manager’s authority. So, I think you are seeing some of that,” said Coffman.

Documents in the open records request describe four previous incidents where Ms. Norris’ family is in contact with police. At least twice the police said Norris referenced racism and three times made veiled threats against the responding officers’ jobs.

On January 12, 2019, while police were looking into a fight involving her sister, police said Norris told officers “I’ll remember this.”

On January 20, 2019, while her brother was being investigated for an entering auto, police said Norris told them “she has something for us.”

On November 17, 2019, after Norris’ sister was stopped for traffic violations, Norris reportedly told Ashburn Police Chief Clifford Jordan his officers were racist and ordered him to dismiss the charges.

On March 23, 2020, Chief Jordan said that while taking in her nephew for a domestic violence incident, Norris told him one of the officers is a racist and stated “she’s going to sue the department.”

Below is a copy of the list of incidents that occurred that WALB received in the open records request.

Then in August, the incident at Norris’ home, Norris’ attorney said the reported gunfire was only firecrackers.

Did she make these veiled threats that they are talking about in the open records?

“Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” Coffman answered.

“There was this conflict between city manager and the police department. And so that’s kind of the basis of their being locked up,” said Coleman.

Coleman said city council members and the mayor are tied 3-3 on Ms. Norris’ job future.

Could she return to work after this and supervise the police fairly?

“She’s a professional city manager. All right. She’s not going to get bogged down in the petty politics of small-town Georgia. Which is unfortunately where we are,” said Coffman.

“It’s not a good thing. That’s correct. And I think the council recognizes that,” said Coleman.

Coffman said Norris is stressed and just wants to get back to work.

“I hope we don’t have to take the route of legal action,” said Coffman.

Norris remains on paid administrative leave, still collecting her salary, which both attorneys said is approximately $70,000 a year.

“It’s a significant amount of money for a town the size of Ashburn,” said Coleman.

The one thing all sides agree on, the city council, the mayor and both attorneys all say they hope to have this situation resolved soon.

The next scheduled city council meeting is in December unless there is a specially called meeting before.

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