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County banning employees from running for office

By Billy Corriher

After recent allegations of discrimination against county employees running for political office, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed an ordinance prohibiting county employees from running for office in county government after next year.

The new rules come weeks after state Rep. Victor Hill, D-College Park, was denied a leave of absence from his job at the county police department to serve in the state legislature.

The new ordinance only applies to county employees requesting a leave of absence to campaign for county office.

In Hill's case, the county police chief said he denied Hill's request because of a lack of manpower, but Hill claimed the denial was a result of pressure from Crandle Bray, chairman of the board of commissioners. Hill said Bray and Hill's boss, Chief Darrell Partain, have tried to discourage his candidacy, but he will run regardless of what happens.

Bray said Hill's accusations are a "political ploy," and the new ban will prevent conflicts like the one Hill has had with the county.

Bray said that most other counties he has inquired about already have laws on the books against employees running for county office because of the potential for a conflict of interest.

"You put the integrity of the system at issue," he said.

Under the new law, county employees qualifying to run in next year's elections will have the opportunity to go before the commissioners to ask for a leave of absence, instead of going to the heads of their departments.

But Hill said he worries about the decision being in the hands of the commissioners, especially if a county employee wants to run for the board of commissioners.

"What this is? is an attempt to discourage someone from seeking political office by holding their job over their head," he said. "What they're saying is you've got to have their permission to run for office."

But County Attorney Don Comer said that, next year, no county employees have expressed interest in running for commissioner.

Comer said the board felt the decision of whether or not to grant a leave should not be in the hands of the civil service board and the county department heads.

"It's so sensitive, that it's felt that the board should determine if an employee could take a leave of absence for political activities," Comer said.

After 2004, county employees will not be allowed to seek county government offices unless they quit their job. Employees will be allowed to run for municipal office or the board of education, or for non-county offices like the state legislature.

Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer expressed concern about the hardships a county employee would face in quitting his or her job to run for office.

"That's a terrible financial burden on their families," he said.

But Commissioner Gerald Matthews said that an employee would have to make that decision before deciding to run.

"They're going to have to decide if they want to go without a county paycheck (before they qualify) in April," he said.

The commissioners also approved the creation of a Tax Allocation District in Ellenwood to fund street and sewer improvements.

The improvements are necessary for a massive project, the Ellenwood Town Center Redevelopment, to move forward.

Now that the TAD is in place, the commissioners can issue bonds next year to pay for the improvements. No residents were in attendance to comment on the TAD.

The development, which will include 1,000 new homes and 1 million square feet of retail space, will run along the north side of Anvil Block Road from Interstate 675 to Bouldercrest Road.