Former Clayton County Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins has filed suit in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia against Commissioners Felicia Franklin, Alieka Anderson, and Gail Hambrick, as well as Clayton County, over her June 22 firing. At the time, the commissioners refused to state publicly why Bivins, who had earned years of glowing performance reviews and national awards for her work, was terminated. However, the commissioners voted 3-2 to cancel Bivins’ current contract and drop her pending one shortly after her husband, Charlton Bivins, was involved in a campaign sign dispute, between District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis and a candidate backed by Victor Hill and Mitzi Bickers, that wound up on Fox 5 Atlanta.
“Following the campaign sign incident, Anderson, Franklin, and Hambrick demonstrated a singular focus to use their power of elective office under color of state law to diminish the lives of Mr. and Ms. Bivins,” the suit reads in part.
The three commissioners and county are charged with one count each of First Amendment retaliation, while the county is charged with breach of contract. The three commissioners also are charged with punitive damages.
Bivins is suing the commissioners in their official capacities, as well as personally, for violating her First Amendment rights, and is seeking damages for “willful and malicious retaliation.” Specifically, she is seeking:
- a jury trial
- a declaration that her rights were violated
- the county to stop pursuing her for the tuition payments
- “full back pay, including all lost pay and benefits, raises, cost of living increases, retirement benefits, and all other lost benefits and compensation reducible to a dollar amount”
- “actual damages for Defendant Clayton County’s breach of contract for unpaid severance in the amount of $84,853.86…plus interest”
- prejudgement interest
- penalties for emotional pain and suffering
- “front pay, including all lost future pay and benefits, raises, cost of living increases, retirement benefits, and all other lost benefits and compensation reducible to a dollar amount”
- “punitive damages against Defendants Franklin, Anderson, and Hambrick, in their individual capacities, sufficient to punish them for their unlawful conduct and deter them from repeating such conduct in the future.”
According to the complaint, the county had agreed to pay for Bivins’ and Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford’s college classes.
“During the term of the Agreement [Bivins’ contract through June 30], as permitted by the Agreement, Clayton County agreed to pay for and paid for Ms. Bivins’ courses in the Leadership and Learning in Organizations program at Vanderbilt University….Similarly, as permitted by their employment agreements with Clayton County, Clayton County also agreed to pay for and paid for university courses for other employees,” including Stanford.
As CFO, Ramona Bivins had avoided any political entanglements as part of her job. Her husband, Charlton, was actively campaigning for District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis’ reelection against challenger Janice Scott, who was being backed by Sheriff Victor Hill, Anderson, Franklin, and political consultant Mitzi Bickers.
At the time, Bickers was under federal indictment for her role in the Atlanta City Hall contract-steering scandal. Bickers was convicted on nine of 12 counts and is scheduled to report to federal prison on November 8, while Hill awaits a federal jury’s verdict on alleged misuse of jail restraint chairs, under color of law, to punish pretrial detainees at the Clayton County Jail.
When the two campaigns crossed paths, Davis called Charlton Bivins and said two Scott campaign workers were replacing his signs with hers. Charlton Bivins suggested he call police, and the responding officer from Riverdale Police accidentally mistook the call for an auto theft and pulled his gun. No one was injured in the incident.
According to the complaint, “On May 23, 2022, Felicia Franklin personally emailed reporter Robin Kemp at the Clayton Crescent, a local newspaper [sic], a copy of an audio recording. The recording included part of a phone call on May 22, 2022, between Commissioner Davis and Bruce Parks, Assistant Chief of the Clayton County Police Department, which mentions Charlton Bivins by name and his efforts to locate the Scott campaign vehicle for the police. Clayton County Chief of Police Kevin Roberts stated to the Clayton Crescent that Felicia Franklin personally requested the audio recording that was provided to the Clayton Crescent.”
A check of Franklin’s e-mail to The Clayton Crescent shows that Franklin had forwarded the call to Kemp on May 25, but that Franklin had received a copy of the call from Roberts on May 23, then forwarded it to Riverdale City Councilwoman Wanda Wallace, Riverdale Police Chief Todd Spivey, and Riverdale City Manager Scott Wood:
Soon after, Franklin, Anderson, and Hambrick voted to end Ramona Bivins’ contract without any public explanation.
When Ramona Bivins was terminated, the complaint alleges, the county had promised her six months’ severance pay but did not pay her $84,853 in severance pay that was part of her contract.
The night that Ramona Bivins was fired, Anderson and Franklin allegedly gloated over the move.
“A few minutes after the meeting, Commissioners Franklin and Anderson expressed glee at Ms. Bivins’ termination and purportedly voided Agreement. Franklin said to Anderson, “I can sleep good tonight.” In response, Anderson said, “Do I need to get us a bottle?”
The complaint also alleges that “Franklin, Anderson and Hambrick knew that Mr. [Charlton] Bivins openly supported” incumbent District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis over challenger Janice Scott.
Anderson then led the effort to try and recover the tuition money the county had paid to Vanderbilt University for Ramona Bivins’ Ph.D. program. According to Ramona Bivins; attorney, the payments were covered as part of her employment contract.
When Stanford, who had identical language in his contract, offered to repay his University of Georgia graduate school tuition, Anderson allegedly told him he didn’t have to because “we are only going after Ramona.”
The suit mentions The Clayton Crescent, which had published the story about Davis’ campaign signs.
The case in U.S District Court for the Northern District of Georgia is Bivins v. Franklin et al., No. 1:22-cv-0414. Bivins is represented by Buckley Beal.