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Sheriff sued over cars, plaques

By Justin Boron

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners is suing Sheriff Victor Hill for re-painting his vehicles and moving plaques that, among other names, displayed prominently those of his predecessor and a former elected official with whom he squabbled frequently.

The suit is the latest controversy in a progression of disputes between Hill and the county commission starting before he took office. It also adds another fight to the first-term sheriff's ever-broadening legal battlefront, with a federal discrimination suit, filed by the 27 sheriff employees Hill fired on his first day in office, still lingering.

Hill did not respond to attempts by phone and in writing to get comment for this story.

A copy of the complaint from the board claims that the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, along with other county owned and maintained property such as vehicles, requires commissioners' approval before it is altered.

Specifically, it alleges that Hill moved plaques on the justice center walls and painted sheriff patrol cars without the permission of the county commission.

The removed plaques commemorated the justice center's dedication. Hill has said he intends to put the monuments on a "Wall of Honor" in the Sheriff's Office. Nothing was on the painted-blue wall Wednesday morning.

The car conflict stems from Hill's plan to change the color of his patrol cars from brown to gold and black. Some newly painted cars have the sheriff's name emblazoned on them.

The complaint also says Hill overstepped his authority in spending money on the cars and contracting with a third party for the paint jobs.

Hill has maintained in the past that as an elected official, he is in control of his own budget and doesn't need permission from the board to spend funds.

According to the complaint, Hill had two warnings to stop changing county property.

In a letter dated August 19, Jack Hancock, who represents the county commission, wrote Hill following media accounts of the conflict.

"After reading the comments in the papers yesterday, if they are accurate, it is clear that we do not have an understanding regarding modifications to the property of the county," he says in the letter. "There should be no modification of, addition to, or removal from any portion of the structure or any attachment to the structure without approval of the commissioners."

Wednesday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons, who is assigned the case, had not set a court date and had not recused himself, which is often the tact regarding litigation within the county government assigned to local judges.

In another development that is not necessarily related to the case, the county is probing into the sheriff's financial records as part of a routine audit, according to Michael Smith, the county's chief staff attorney.

An open records request also made by Hancock asked the sheriff for "all bank statements, canceled checks, deposit slips, copies of checks that have been deposited into the accounts and supporting documents including invoices or other evidence supporting the checks for any and all accounts maintained by you."

Winston Denmark, an attorney familiar with local government law, said hypothetically, the intent of requests of this nature could fall within a broad range of possibility.

He said requests can indicate something as routine as disclosure of where public funds are being allocated or could be part of fact finding for litigation.