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Candidate accuses chairman of bias

By Billy Corriher

With qualifying for this year's elections just one week away and the county's policy on employees running for office still up in the air, one employee has filed a complaint with the Justice Department asking it to throw out the county's policy.

State Rep. Victor Hill, a detective for the Clayton County Police Department and candidate for sheriff, filed a complaint on Friday asking the department not to clear the policy, which requires employees to seek a leave of absence from the county commissioners to run for office. Hill said the complaint alleges that County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray's public support for Sheriff Stanley Tuggle is evidence of bias in the county's enforcement of the ordinance.

"I think it's very inappropriate that the chairman, who is behind making this policy, is supporting my opponent," Hill said. "That's definitely a conflict of interest."

Even though he publicly said he hoped the people of Clayton County would re-elect Tuggle, Bray said that does not mean he's supporting him.

"I'm not supporting anybody (in the sheriff's race). I haven't done anything for anybody," he said. "I am interested in what's best for Clayton County."

Tuggle said last week that he doesn't care who is allowed to run against him, and he has no interest in the fight over the county's policy.

Bray said he's confident that the Justice Department will approve the county's policy, but the county still doesn't know if it will hear from the department on whether or not the rule will be cleared under the Voting Rights Act in time for qualifying next week.

Forest Park Attorney Jack Hancock said he submitted the policy to the Justice Department on behalf of the county last week. Hancock said he asked if the department could expedite the consideration of the policy.

"But we don't have an answer on that yet," he said.

Hancock said the county hasn't talked to him about the possibility of representing the county if the policy is challenged in court. Hill has threatened to sue over the policy, claiming it was a politically motivated attempt to keep him from running.

Bray said that if the department doesn't clear the county's policy that requires a leave of absence, the county could rely on a 1963 policy that doesn't allow county employees to run for office at all, or it could not have a policy on employees running for office.

"We may just go ahead without anything," Bray said.

If the county tried to revert to the 1963 ordinance, Hill said the county has not enforced the law before, and he doubts Bray would want to fire county employees who run for office, particularly candidates he has supported.

"All the talk about enforcing the 1963 policy is an attempt to talk tough," Hill said.

Hill said that if the new rule is not cleared and the county tries to enforce the 1963 policy, he will pursue further legal action, and he thinks the county would lose in court.

"If they go back to the old policy, they've already set a precedent of letting other county employees run for office," he said.

Bray said that all current county employees, even ones he supports for election like his administrative assistant, Wade Starr, would have to follow whatever rule the county adopts.

"(Starr) may need to take a leave of absence or quit just like everybody else," he said. "He'll do whatever everybody else does."