Justice Department wants answers on ordinance

By Ed Brock

The U.S. Department of Justice has some questions about a proposed county ordinance regarding county employees running for political offices in the county.

The policy has been a source of contention between Clayton County Police Detective Victor Hill, who is also a candidate for sheriff, and the county commission. After Hill was told by his boss, Police Chief Darrell Partain, that a county ordinance required him to take a leave of absence to campaign, Hill complained to the commission that the policy had not been enforced in the past and that he was a victim of selective enforcement.

The commission tried to change the ordinance to allow the candidates in the current election to run on a leave of absence but requiring county employees who chose to run in future races to resign their positions with the county. In April, Hill told the commission that the ordinance wasn't legal because it hadn't been pre-cleared by U.S. Justice Department.

On Tuesday the federal agency sent attorney Jack Hancock, who has been hired by the county to handle the case, a letter with six questions that they needed answered before they could issue a clearance.

Some of the questions deal directly with issues about which Hill had complained.

In the letter the department's Chief of the Voting Section Joseph D. Rich asked the county to provide a "detailed description of the process leading up to the adoption of the May 7, 1963 ordinance," and the recently changed Ordinance No. 2003-168.

Rich also asked for names and phone numbers of minority persons or organizations who commented on the proposed changes. And he also asked for information on any county employee who was allowed to run for office without taking a leave of absence and an explanation as to why the ordinance was not enforced against them.

Also, the letter asks the county to "describe with particularity any events or circumstances that prompted the county to enforce the May 7, 1963 ordinance as amended."

Hancock said he had not had a chance to review the questions and could not comment. He also said he could not give a time frame for when the county could provide the answers to the questions.

After the questions are answered the Justice Department has 60 days to review the information before it has to provide a response.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said he had not yet received the letter and preferred not to comment on the questions before he could read them.

Bray did say he did not think the amended ordinance would be in place before the July 20 election.

Along with Hill there are at least two other county employees running for office. Police accident investigator Joe Mack Eckler is also running for sheriff and Bray's administrative assistant Wade Starr is running for Bray's seat. Bray is not running for reelection.