Mayor Gene Hobgood said he let Garrard go Friday and cited talked-about changes for the Main Street program and Garrard’s employment as his motivation.
The Canton City Council voted in recent weeks to strip Hobgood of the ability to hire staff members.
Hobgood said he had not received a direct order from the council to terminate Garrard’s employment, but the mayor’s office no longer had anything for her to do and the council had different plans for the city’s economic development.
Council members have previously said they planned to keep Garrard’s position but move the job under supervision from the city manager or hire an economic development director whose job would include supervising the Main Street program.
“When I no longer had the authority to hire anybody, I didn’t have to let anybody go that instant. With the circumstances and the plan for economic development, it was coming anyway. The council ... had already made plans to put the Main Street director under somebody else,” Hobgood said.
Hobgood claimed Garrard had also been “harassed” by at least one council member.
“That made her job very, very difficult as it was,” he said.
Hobgood said Garrard did “an absolutely excellent job” for the city.
“I don’t believe the city will be able to replace her at the salary she was making,” he said
Garrard was employed under Hobgood, though the Main Street program, including her salary, was budgeted as a separate line item. She took direction from Hobgood and from the Main Street board of directors.
Garrard had been a city employee for almost four years and spearheaded the effort to have Canton designated as a Main Street City.
Bill Grant, chairman of Canton Main Street’s board of directors, said the board had not been consulted when it came to Garrard’s employment status.
“I’m not sure of what our next steps are,” he said. “I’m really concerned that we may be in jeopardy of losing our designation as a Main Street City.”
Grant said having a full-time director is one of the primary requirements for a city to maintain an accredited Main Street program.
“I think it will be very hard to replace someone that dedicated and passionate,” Grant said. “We wouldn’t have had a program without her. She was on the front lines every day making things happen and working for downtown merchants to make them successful.”
He said it seemed Garrard’s position had been used as a “political bargaining chip.”
“To me, it’s a shame it had to come to this,” he said.
Whether to fill the position and how it will be supervised will now be up to the council, Hobgood said.
Patricia Fowler, Hobgood’s executive assistant, is still employed with the city.
The City Council voted to end funding for her position at the Jan. 17 council meeting, but Hobgood has 10 days from the time of the vote to sign the amendment or veto it.
Hobgood said Monday he is “still thinking about” whether to veto the amendment.
Garrard, reached Tuesday, declined to comment.