Commission likely to vote on CSI transfer

By Justin Boron

Although it is not on the official agenda, incoming Clayton County Commissioner Wole Ralph said he will propose the return of the crime scene investigations unit to Sheriff control tonight at the Board of Commissioners' first meeting under new leadership.

Ralph said he formally requested the item be placed on the agenda.

But Suzanne Brown, the county public information officer, said after she met with county commission Chairman Eldrin Bell Monday, it had not been added.

Even if it isn't on the agenda by 7 p.m. tonight, County Attorney Don Comer said any commissioner could make a motion for the Board to add an item.

Ralph's struggle to have the proposal placed on the agenda has prompted him to question the lack of protocol for setting it.

There is no specific design in the county code for the creation of the agenda, Comer said.

Historically, the county's various departments would request items for the agenda from the chairman, he said.

The chairman would place the items on the agenda and offer it for the approval of the commissioners, Comer said.

"This Board may choose to adopt some of its own (policies)," he said.

If the commission votes to restore crime scene investigation unit to the Sheriff's Office, it would save the county from a lawsuit that Sheriff Victor Hill has repeatedly threatened.

The possibility of litigation still stands, Hill said on his first official day as Sheriff.

But he said he would only use litigation as a last resort because it could be costly to the county.

"I want to exhaust all means of negotiation," Hill said.

A Dec. 7 resolution placed on the agenda by Commissioner Charley Griswell moved the unit to county police supervision, narrowing the authority of the Sheriff's Office just weeks before Hill took power.

The transfer has dominated the recent political transition, which features representation reflective of the predominantly black electorate.

Incoming District Attorney Jewel Scott and state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam have vocalized their concern over the changes made to county departments as new representation moved in.

But Eldrin Bell, the county's first African-American commission chairman, has distanced himself from the issue, only saying he would wait until he took office to render his opinion on the matter.

Led by its president Dexter Matthews, the Clayton County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has demonstrated its resistance to the move with repeated requests for its reversal.

Rallying many of the local pastors, Matthews urged the community Saturday at the NAACP's annual Jubilee Day Celebration to turn out for the meeting and fight for the unit's return.

Hill has characterized the actions as racist and vindictive politics.

He points to a letter dated two days after he defeated incumbent Stanley Tuggle as evidence that personal politics are at play.

A copy of the letter provided to the News Daily shows that Tuggle requested the transfer after he had lost the election.

The timing of the letter, Hill says, discredits the former administration's assertion that the transfer had been discussed well before Hill won.

While Ralph also questions the motivations of the transfer, he has attempted to steer the conflict away from race, noting that Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, who is white, voted against the measure.

In an attempt to move beyond the motivations for the action, Ralph said the commission should reverse itself because the decision was not representative of the public's will.

"It is important that the new commission presents a new image," he said. "(The people) need to know we are acting in their best interest."

He said he worries petty politics could limit economic development.

"You simply cannot attract high-end homes or businesses to a county where important decisions are made recklessly . . . no one will invest here," Ralph said.