Stockbridge settles lawsuit against city, Mayor Pro Tem for $1.7 million

Stockbridge will pay the owner of a local barbecue restaurant and his attorneys $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit over allegations of retaliation by a city leader.

Arick Whitson, owner of Georgia Championship Barbeque Company, will receive about $1.2 million for himself and his restaurant, while his attorneys will get $534,000, according to settlement terms released by the Henry County city.

In reaching the settlement, Stockbridge, which also was named as a defendant in the litigation, did not admit any wrongdoing.

“There is no admission of liability by the City of Stockbridge,” the city said in a statement. “Our legal counsel and the insurance company felt a compromise could and should be reached. Though the City of Stockbridge itself did nothing wrong, the settlement avoided a protracted legal process that would have resulted in uncertainty by all parties.”

The lawsuit, which was first filed in May 2017, accused City Councilman Elton Alexander — now Stockbridge’s Mayor Pro Tem — of a year-long retaliation campaign against Whitson and his eatery after the proprietor declined to comp Alexander’s meal.

The litigation said the issue begin in May 2016 when Alexander, who was visiting the restaurant, allegedly asked Whitson if he wanted to do “business with the city.” Whitson replied yes and Alexander order $60 worth of food.

When Alexander was asked to pay, the councilmember said, “I thought you wanted to do business with the city?” Alexander then left without paying.

Days later, code enforcement officials showed up at the eatery and began harassing Whitson until the following spring, the lawsuit said. Whitson had trouble securing a liquor license for the restaurant, signage for the eatery and other building permits.

Alexander also allegedly attacked Whitson by making false accusations to the Henry District Attorney’s office, including accusations that Whitson was on the National Sex Offender Registry and was abusive to women. Whitson filed an ethics complaint against Alexander in January 2017, which he said only fueled Alexander’s attacks.

Alexander, in an email, denied the claims and said he did not agree with the city’s insurer’s decision to settle.

“This is a business decision by the insurance company to settle this lawsuit in its entirety and to release the City of Stockbridge and Elton Alexander from all claims,” he said. “Mr. Alexander does not support the settlement and does not have the authority to override the insurance company’s decision to settle this lawsuit.

“This decision is upsetting and a distraction from the work at hand moving the community forward. I ask for your prayers during this trying time for my family and me personally.”