The Washington Post

Pr. George’s city evicts mayor from his office after employee complaints

Mayor Eugene Grant gathers his belongings Tuesday after being barred from his office and city hall because of how he allegedly treated some employees. He has clashed with the town council in the past. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The mayor of tiny Seat Pleasant, Md., (population 4,500) was ordered to vacate his city hall office late Monday after four of seven City Council members voted to punish him for allegedly berating and insulting city employees.

Eugene Grant, who is serving his third term as mayor, called the council “a rogue and renegade” body that should have brought its concerns before the city’s ethics commission and involved residents in the process.

Grant said he coined Seat Pleasant’s motto, “A city of excellence,” to usher in a culture of high expectations and felt justified in calling out staff members who didn’t meet them.

“I don’t have a quick temper just for the sake of having a quick temper,” Grant said. “I’ve had people that, for whatever reason will not comply with . . . directives the way they are expected to be done.”

City Administrator LaTasha C. Gatling said officials had received 13 complaints about Grant’s behavior over his 10 years as mayor. A total of 44 people work for the city. In one case, City Council member Elenora Simms said, a summer intern alleged that Grant went into a rage and berated her for slipping a letter under his closed office door.

Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant goes from scriptures to threats in response to the City Council voting down his Feggan's Center project during a town hall meeting in Seat Pleasant on Jan. 13, 2014. (Hamil Harris/The Washington Post)

“There have been so many incidents up there at city hall,” Simms said. The council took action, she added, because “we are trying to protect the city from any lawsuit.”

Grant said he did not recall ever speaking harshly to an intern.

Before he was elected, the loquacious community activist accused city leaders of not doing enough to promote economic development in the largely black, working-class city inside the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County.

After he narrowly defeated incumbent Eugene Kennedy in 2004, animosity grew. When Grant proposed building a $100 million government complex early this year, Kennedy — now a City Council member — helped kill the project.

After learning that no city or state law entitles an elected official to office space, Kennedy, Simms and two other council members voted in a closed-door meeting to revoke Grant’s office privileges. “The city’s employees are entitled to a working environment free from hostility and intimidation,” a hand-delivered letter said.

Simms said the council had previously stripped Grant of his authority over staff and denied him access to a city vehicl after receiving reports of abuse.

“I don’t know if it’s jealously or insecurity,” Grant said. “But . . . they are inhibiting the growth of Seat Pleasant.”

State Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D), whose district includes the city, said she became “gravely concerned” after fielding calls Tuesday bemoaning the council’s decision. “I plan to sit down with the council and the mayor to see what exactly is the problem,” Benson said.

Council President Reveral L. Yeargin, who voted against evicting the mayor, said the ouster was premature. “Something like this should take a supermajority rather than just a simple majority,” he said.

Grant said he will pitch a tent outside city hall to receive constituents. “It’s not going to stop me from meeting with people,” he said. “It will slow me down, but it will not stop me.”

Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post's local staff.

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