COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners has reached a $500,000 settlement agreement in a case filed by former Recreation Department director Anthony Avery, who claimed his firing in November 2017 was racially motivated, without due process and the result of a conspiracy against him.
Avery filed the federal Civil Rights suit in November 2018. Commissioners met in a closed session Tuesday to discuss mediation in the case. The county announced the settlement had been reached late Wednesday. The agreement is subject to approval by the Board of Commissioners, who will meet next Tuesday.
“This resolution allows us to put this matter behind us and move forward,” said Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes in the released statement. “We have a great team who together will do things to move Newton County forward.”
Named in the lawsuit were Banes; Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston; District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards; Danny Stone, former chairman of the Recreation Commission; and Julius Hays, Scharee Howard, Tim Fleming, Steven Rhodes and Josh McKelvey, all former members of the Recreation Commission who voted to fire Avery.
Wednesday’s settlement does not include Mayor Ronnie Johnston or City Council member McKelvey. City Attorney Frank Turner Jr. said the city has a motion to dismiss pending as Avery was never a city employee.
Avery was fired in late November 2017 without the Rec Commission board putting in place a 90-day corrective action plan, despite being advised to do so by the county attorney. The county subsequently placed Avery on administrive leave pending a human resources review. Avery was then notified on Jan. 30 that he had been terminated.
The termination letter sent to Avery cited seven violations of the county’s Civil Service System rules and regulations. In particular, the review found that Avery had violated a direct order from the Rec Commission board to distribute a new conflict of interest policy; that he lied to former board chair Stone when he indicated that he had distributed the policy to employees; and that he failed to exhibit good leadership and management, among others.
Avery claimed that during his four years as recreation director, he was never reprimanded nor was his job performance called into question and that he was fired without due process under the county’s Civil Service System. The lawsuit alleged that in September 2017, several Rec Commission members began a “conspiracy to have (Avery) terminated before the end of 2017.” However, the lawsuit alleged that even though there were “numerous discussions” among the members about Avery’s job performance, “no one ever brought these sentiments to the attention of (Avery) in private or in any board meetings.”
Avery further claimed that, immediately after he was appointed in October 2013 over a white employee of the Recreation Department, the employee began a campaign of “threats, acts of intimidation, insubordination, verbal assaults, poor work performance” and more. Avery claimed that he reported in excess of 30 incidents of this behavior to the Recreation Commission board, but they refused to reprimand or terminate the employee.
Avery was seeking compensation for loss of pay, benefits and other economic losses, as well as emotional and personal pain and damages.
Avery and the county had been engaged in settlement negotiations to resolve any potential claims related to his dismissal. Avery had demanded a cash settlement of $750,000. The county made two counter offers to settle the case, but Avery had rejected both.
Under the terms of the settlement, the $500,000 will be paid with $175,000 coming from county’s insurer, $175,000 to be paid by the county, and $175,000 to be paid by the Rec Commission.