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City fires back against ex-chief
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The city of Rincon has added another chapter in a legal battle with former police chief Michael Berry.

The city has filed a counterclaim against Berry, who is suing the city for open meetings violations. The city is charging Berry with destruction of government property without authority, misappropriation of government funds and the theft and conversion of government property and funds.

In its counter to Berry’s suit, the city alleges that Berry directed that all uniforms and related equipment be purchased in violation of the competitive bid process and also bought unnecessary uniforms and equipment.

The city also charges that Berry bought uniforms and equipment in other city employees’ names and then either kept the property or destroyed it. The city claims that Berry did not distribute the equipment to the employees named on the invoices nor to any other employee. In its claim, the city states the property was not turned in after Berry was terminated and can’t be found.

The city also claims that Berry’s conduct “was egregious and intentional in nature and warrants the imposition of punitive damages.” The city also is seeking to be awarded attorney’s fees and the cost of litigation.

“The City of Rincon’s reported filing of a counter lawsuit, which is in response to the Georgia Open Meeting Violation lawsuit filed on my behalf in December 2008, is frivolous, without merit and shameful,” Berry said in an e-mailed response. “In addition, the malicious and false allegations cited in the reported counter lawsuit is another attempt by the City of Rincon to publicly slander and defame my reputation and character without legal justification or cause.”

The former chief appealed his termination but council members denied his appeal in a November hearing.

Berry, who had been on the job for less than six months, was fired Sept. 10 by the city council, two days after a closed-door session that lasted more than seven hours. The closing of the session, according to the Georgia Press Association’s legal counsel, was against the law.

In his suit against the city, filed in December, the former chief alleged that documents pertaining to his termination weren’t being provided to him in the time mandated by open records laws. The lawsuit also states that information that led to Berry’s suspension and ultimate dismissal was received at the meeting, which lasted until 3:30 a.m. Sept. 9.

A message left Monday for City Attorney Raymond Dickey was not returned by press time Monday afternoon.

Council members also have voted to terminate finance director Donna Wall. Wall was hired last February to replace Brett Bennett, who left to become city manager of Springfield.