Port Wentworth Mayor Pro-Tem calls mass resignations ‘attack’ on city

By Mariah Congedo

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 5:03 PM EST

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s been just over a week since the city manager of Port Wentworth resigned along with six of the seven administrative staff members due to what they’re calling a hostile work environment.

Monday, the Mayor Pro-Tem held a news conference to address the current situation and how the city plans to move forward.

City Hall isn’t just closed Monday because it’s President’s Day. It’s been closed since February 11 because of all the resignations. Mayor Pro-Tem Thomas Barbee took to the podium and called what has happened over the last few weeks an “attack” on the city.

“What you have witnessed over the past few weeks is an orchestrated attack on the city and its residents,” said Barbee.

In less than two weeks Ed Booth resigned from his position as the city manager, six administrative staff members resigned and the newly appointed interim city manager and current Port Wentworth Police Chief, Matt Libby resigned just three days after he was appointed.

“City Hall shuttered. City Council locked out. Access to city services denied from residents.”

Booth says those who’ve resigned say they were subjected to a hostile work environment created by the new majority of the city council elected in November. Barbee claims this is just not the case.

“Asking questions, changing plans and procedures, and demanding competent management are not acts of a hostile employer. These are acts of a mindful duly elected city council doing their sworn duty.”

A majority of the new council was elected in November and has held one meeting since before this all unfolded.

“The challenges this city faces are not the result of 30 days of new leadership, but rather the lack of leadership for the last 30 years.”

Barbee says the new council has been lied to and misled by those who have also taken an oath to the city. He also says since Booth’s resignation, Mayor Gary Norton has “failed to communicate properly with the majority of council.”

“If they can’t get on board with the progress and the forward movement and representing all of Port Wentworth then I guess the best thing for them was, I guess, to resign,” said resident Janet Hester.

Resident Janet Hester says she just wants to see the city move forward from this. She says Monday’s press conference gave her hope of that when Barbee announced that they will have a council meeting this Thursday and will work to appoint a new interim city manager.

“Put all the silly politics and the drama aside and get down to business in dealing with the issues like the excessive rezoning we’ve seen in recent years,” Hester said.

At the end of the news conference Barbee said that his attorney advised him not to answer any questions because there’s an ongoing investigation.

Even after Monday, it’s still unclear when interim city manager Matt Libby’s last day will be and how city hall will be operating this week.

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