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Mask mandate, mayor's remarks prompt recall effort in Guyton
Russ Deen
A sign tied to the familiar caboose in downtown Guyton on Saturday calls for the ouster of first-term Mayor Russ Dean. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
Andy Harville
Andy Harville - photo by File photo
The (recall petition) is just for Russ but I imagine there will be four other recall applications.
Andy Harville

GUYTON — Relative political tranquility has been interrupted by the return of tumult in Guyton.

A group of Guyton residents is aiming to recall Mayor Russ Deen, who is barely halfway through the first year of the four-year term he won last fall. His tenure, which includes the arrival of council newcomers Hursula Pelote and Marshall Reiser, has been marked by nothing by unanimous votes, a dramatic departure from recent history.

The recall attempt comes on the heels of a July 22 special-called meeting in which Deen sparked considerable resistance for changing the procedure for public participation.

Under the new rules, which have the council’s support, public comments must be limited to items on the council agenda. In addition, all the comments must be made before the council starts considering items for votes. 

Previously, citizens were allowed to comment and ask questions prior to the vote on each item that was considered.

After quickly clearing the first item on the July 22 agenda, Deen frequently declined to explain the reasons for the new course, leaving lengthy periods of awkward silence.

A pivotal exchange occurred midway through the meeting when resident Scott Thompson said, “I’m asking a question, Mr. Deen. Can you not answer it?”

Deen responded, “Yes, I can answer that, Mr. Thompson. Hold your tongue for one minute and I’ll give you the answer. You live in a Republic, a system of government where you have elected officials to represent your interests. That is the type of government this city council is. Your input is not necessary outside of the vote.

“Outside of this meeting, you are welcome to address council members, mayor  and city officials, but in this meeting it is actually not legally required to have any public comments whatsoever.” 

Most of the questions before and after the testy exchange surrounded the removal of Andy Harville from the Planning & Zoning Committee. Harville, who was replaced by Dana Lee, said wasn’t notified about his ouster or the reasoning for it. He learned about it through a City of Guyton Facebook post, a move Harville dubbed, “cowardly.”

“When council begins new business (on the agenda), we will no longer entertain public comments,” the mayor said to Harville. “We’ve deemed it more appropriate to follow Robert’s Rules to improve decorum and civility in the meeting.”

While explaining the removal of Harville, Deen succinctly said, “The council has decided to move in a different direction and we appreciate your service up until this point.”

The answer didn’t satisfy several people listening, including Harville.

“It seems to me to be some sort of retaliation because I’ve put in some open records requests on your wrongdoing,” Harville said to Deen. “If that’s the case, I imagine there will be some more issues going on later on down the road.”

“Six days earlier, Deen and the council drew ire after they  approved a mandate for all residents and visitors over the age of 11 to wear masks to combat COVID-19. That July 16 action sparked a protest attended by about 10 people two days later at the caboose in the downtown area.

On Saturday, the group, which had doubled in size, returned to protest and seek signatures for an effort to recall Deen.

 “The (recall petition) is just for Russ but I imagine there will be four other recall applications,” Harville said during the protest. “They have all violated the charter or their oath of office. Russ is just the most prominent one.”

Harville said the process for the March hiring of Police Chief James Breletic violated the city charter. He also alleged Deen’s “misappropriation of funds” but didn’t go into detail.

“I can’t show you all my cards,” Harville said.