Sheriff candidate threatens lawsuit against county

By Billy Corriher

State Rep. Victor Hill, also a Clayton County police officer and candidate for county sheriff, threatened a lawsuit against the county Tuesday night over a policy that requires county employees to ask commissioners for a leave of absence to run for certain county offices.

Hill, D-Riverdale, told the Clayton County Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday meeting that a policy regarding political activities must be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, and since the county's policy wasn't cleared, it is not legal.

"This policy is illegal by federal standards," Hill said.

Hill requested a leave of absence from his job as a detective last fall, but Chief Darrell Partain denied his request, saying his decision was due to a lack of manpower. Hill said Partain told him to go before the commissioners to ask for his leave of absence.

Hill said he also filed a complaint Tuesday with the Justice Department about the policy not being cleared, and he said the matter could go to court.

Hill also pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case that he said was "shockingly identical" to his situation in which the court ruled that a similar restriction on county employees running for office was illegal and placed an economic burden on those wanting to run.

Commissioner Charley Griswell got into a shouting match with Hill as the commissioners adjourned, saying he resented the comparison to the Supreme Court case because that case alleged racial discrimination by the county.

"I resent that and it's unfair," he said. "I've been your friend."

Griswell then told Hill he wouldn't listen to his "political stunt" and tried to leave the chamber.

"If you're my friend, you wouldn't put me out on the street," Hill said as Griswell left the room. "I'll see you in federal court."

County Attorney Don Comer, who said he has worked with Hill on his case whenever Hill asked him to, criticized Hill for not coming to him first with the issue.

Comer said he wasn't sure if the policy had to be approved by the Justice Department, but he said many policies had to be.

"Just about everything we do in terms of voting has to be approved," he said.

The commissioners also heard from members of the Jonesboro Area Athletic Association, who were seeking to keep the county Parks and Recreation Department from taking over operations of their park.

Lecia Baum, president of the association, said she believed that without financial trouble or scandals the park would remain with the association.

"We follow every rule and regulation handed down by parks and recreation," she said.

Board Chairman Crandle Bray said the park would be taken over eventually, but not until at least next year.

In other business, the commissioners awarded an $11.3 million contract to Turner Construction Co. for the Clayton County Aquatic Center. Also on Tuesday, The Facility Group was awarded a contract to design five prototype recreational centers. Both projects are funded with revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax.

The commissioners also approved an ordinance that outlaws theft of water service, which includes restoring service illegally or obtaining service by other fraudulent means.

The commissioners passed new development rules that would further protect structures in floodplains. The commissioners also voted for new stormwater management rules that will give the county better oversight for monitoring development around environmentally sensitive areas.