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Next administration to handle CSI, narcotics transfer

By Justin Boron

The transfer of the narcotics and crime scene investigation units looks to be headed to the same place other contentious issues have gone in the past few months: the hands of Chairman-elect Eldrin Bell.

As the year winds down and the next administration prepares to take over the county commission, the hotly debated transfer has lingered on county government's backburner for five weeks after being blocked or deleted from the agenda every time it has come before the board.

Sheriff-elect Victor Hill has used emergency injunctions and threats of lawsuits to deter approval of the measure, which would have stripped the Sheriff's Department of the crime scene investigations unit and placed the narcotics unit under the supervision of the county police.

Hill's threats appeared to have an impact at November's business meeting when the item was removed just before the session began.

At Tuesday's business meeting, it will not be on the agenda, said current Chairman Crandle Bray. But he said its absence doesn't mean the issue is dead.

"I'm waiting on the chairman-elect to tell me what he wants to do," he said.

Leaving the issue for Bell threatens to spill into the next administration all the bitterness, outrage, and inflamed tempers that have pervaded commission meetings and court hearings for the issue in the past month.

Hill said his threat of a lawsuit will carry over into January, when his position will be strengthened by having official standing and by having Wole Ralph - who Hill considers an ally - on the commission.

Bell stands by a statement he made three weeks ago.

"It is the business of the current commission," he had said. "I have no official statement until it comes before me, after I have taken office."

Bell has guided Bray and the commission on controversial issues before. On his request, the county commission agreed to hold over the approval of a joint-ownership agreement with Henry County for Tara Field.

The two admit they have been working closely to prepare for a historical transition of power, which will put the county's first African-American chairman in charge of a majority black commission.

But the momentous change could be jaded by contention early on if Bell decides to act on the measure or gives Bray the nod to bring it before the commission, Hill said.

The basis for the potential lawsuit threatened by Hill is the Sheriff's duty as the chief law enforcer in the county, which he says cannot be taken from the Sheriff's Department.

Hill also said the budget for the Sheriff's Department cannot legally be altered once it is approved.

With only one more business meeting left in December after Tuesday, Hill said he is confident the measure has been defeated.

Speculating, he said if the measure isn't passed before January, it will never come up again.