Going to work as city manager in Diamondhead can be a career-busting decision, two previous city managers claim.
Both were investigated. Neither was found guilty of a crime and now one of the two, Clovis Reed, is suing the city in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
Reed claims he was run off by Mayor Tommy Schafer, who constantly interfered with city work, even showing up on Reed's doorstep late at night to make sure the city manager would answer the mayor's "late night, harassing phone calls."
Trouble started the month after Reed went to work in Diamondhead in September 2014, the lawsuit says, when he had a disturbing conversation with Schafer.
"Mayor Schafer was attempting to ascertain Mr. Reed's loyalty to the mayor," the lawsuit says. "Mayor Schafer informed Mr. Reed that Mr. Reed should not look too closely at various invoices received by the city from outside contractors because the mayor was often reimbursed expenses from these contractors."
When Reed questioned the arrangement, the lawsuit says, "The mayor was not happy about Mr. Reed's refusal to disregard the illegality of the mayor's arrangements with contractors."
The mayor, aided by others, eventually began to spread false allegations about Reed, the lawsuit says.
Reed's attorney, Daniel Waide of Hattiesburg, said the former city manager has been unable to get a job since he was forced to resign in May 2017.
In addition to the city of Diamondhead and Schafer, Reed is suing City Councilwoman Nancy Depreo, former city employee Elaine Bienvenue, former Sea Coast Echo reporter Dwayne Bremer, and four Diamondhead residents.
Reed says his rights to due process were violated when he faced retaliation for speaking out and the defendants spread false statements about him. He also accuses the defendants of conspiracy, libel and slander.
He is asking for unspecified damages for lost wages, anguish and humiliation, plus reimbursement for attorney's fees and court costs.
Schafer's attorney, John Scialdone of Gulfport said: “It is unfortunate Mr. Reed choose to needlessly include so many private individuals as defendants, and to allege so many claims that are either irrelevant or clearly exaggerated.
"Fortunately, our civil justice system guarantees anyone who is sued a broad right to compel the disclosure of all relevant facts, and when this process is finished , Mayor Schafer is confident the result will show the decisions regarding Mr. Reed’s employment were in the very best interest of Diamondhead."
Depreo's attorney, Donald Rafferty of Gulfport said, "We are reviewing the lawsuit and look forward to our day in court."
Bienvenue has moved to Arizona and could not be located to comment. Bremer said he has not been served with a copy of the lawsuit.
"I wrote some stories for the Sea Coast Echo," he said, "and I stand behind my stories." Bremer, who has moved on to another job, said Reed never requested a correction on any of the stories.
The lawsuit does not spell out any specific allegations against Bremer, Bienvenue or the four Diamondhead residents, saying instead that Schafer conspired with "private citizens and others to pursue the witch hunt."
The lawsuit also says the mayor and Depreo wanted city contracts canceled because their preferred contractors were not hired and that the city did cancel contracts after the 2017 election, even though "tens of thousands of dollars" had been spent on preliminary work. The cancellations were puzzling, Reed claims, because grants were funding most of the projects.
Richard Rose, city manager from June 2012 until he was fired two years later, said he was forced to retire at age 56 because he was unable to find another job. He said he lost a job in Maryland when he was indicted in 2015 on perjury charges related to his Diamondhead job.
A judge dismissed those charges based on a request from the state Attorney General's Office, which said the case failed to meet all the elements of perjury and was "fatally defective."
Rose, now 58, said, "It cost me $75,000 for an attorney and ruined my life.”
He said: “I just try to get by. That's all I can do. I'd like to have my money back, and an apology from the city of Diamondhead."
In a separate proceeding, an administrative law judge for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, found that Rose had not committed any misconduct on the job.
The judge, Nathan Nyberg wrote: "The claimant (Rose) did his best to serve the interests of the town that employed him. The problem was that his political bosses used him as a pawn in their schemes to wrangle a little more power for themselves or to deprive their rivals of that power."
Reed, too, has had trouble finding a job.
He is living in Rankin County, his attorney said.
“He has been interviewed for jobs," Waide said, "but they don't go far past background checks.”