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June 28, 2013

Council to fund defense attorney for former interim director Lona Johns

DECATUR — Members of the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) unanimously agreed Wednesday to provide former interim executive director Lona Johns with a defense attorney in a lawsuit filed by former director of aging Rodney Gann.

The decision was made after reconvening from a 30-minute executive session. NARCOG's new attorney, Barney Lovelace, of Decatur, will represent her.

Gann filed suit against the organization, as well as Johns, and West Point Mayor Kenneth Kilgo in May. The suit alleges NARCOG committed employment discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, while Johns and Kilgo — individual defendants — are alleged to have made false statements during his termination in a March 2012 board meeting at Cullman City Hall.

As of Wednesday's meeting, Lovelace said he had not received a request from Kilgo's attorney — Dan Willingham — for a defense attorney.

"I've reached out to Mr. Willingham, but we've missed each other's phone calls," Lovelace said. "So at this time, I do not have a request on behalf of Mr. Kilgo."

Last week, Lovelace was granted an extension to respond to the lawsuit. He said an answer to the lawsuit would be filed on or before July 8.

In addition Wednesday, the board also discussed a personnel matter involving NARCOG employee Cherri Blankenship during the executive session.

The board later voted in agreement to give Blankenship back pay for the week she was suspended by interim executive director Stefanie Franklin without pay.

"Under my understanding due to current due process, the appeal is allowed, and the likelihood of the legal cost would exceed what her pay was," Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said. "My motion is we amend the action regarding Mrs. Blankenship to include pay reinstatement plus a sum of $500, but the disciplinary action that was taken remain in her personnel file without any modification."

Lovelace added, “I want to echo what Mayor Kyle said. The cost for this matter to go any further would be much more. I think this is a reasonable resolution to this issue and now you can put it behind and move forward."

Blankenship is an administrative assistant for the  organization.

Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 135, or by email at agraves@cullmantimes.com

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