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BOC narrowly approves aides for district commissioners

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In a 3-2 vote, the board of commissioners narrowly passed an ordinance to create two, non-civil service positions in Clayton County government for two constituent aides, each of whom would serve at the pleasure of two district commissioners.

According to Clayton County Personnel Director Renee Bright, two constituent aides positions were approved in the budget earlier this year, however, the positions fell under civil-service protection.

Effective with Tuesday night's decision, the two positions will be unclassified, meaning that the aides will not have the protection of the civil-service board, a right enjoyed by the majority of Clayton County employees.

According to Bright, each aide will be brought in at a yearly salary of $37,354.

"They will serve at the pleasure of the commissioners," said Bright. "They will not have the right to protest terminations, suspensions, or grieve before the civil-service board.

"These positions were included in the budget," she continued. "When they were created, they were created as civil-service positions. Because a constituent aide will be working so closely with a commissioner, the board felt that ... those positions should be unclassified."

Chairman Eldrin Bell and Commissioner Virginia Gray opposed the ordinance, worrying that it could create a precedent for other elected officials to request that their assistants not be covered by civil-service protection.

"[Other elected officials] wanted those to be non-protected jobs as well for the same reasons, and we as a county have virtually rejected that notion," said Bell.

"I'm really troubled by this whole concept," said Gray. "I could attach that same feeling toward other employees here who may or may not be in my personal camp. For the citizens to pay for a personal assistant for me, that is not accountable to anybody, but me ... I don't quite understand that concept."

Commissioners Michael Edmondson, Sonna Singleton and Wole Ralph defended the ordinance, saying that the move would remove any possible tensions that may arise between commissioners and constituent aides, as commissioners rotate in and out of office.

"The only thing that this does is to make [the positions] non-civil service," said Singleton. "It is my understanding that the majority of the district commissioners requested this. The district commissioners felt that it would be best, because these people would just be working near other commissioners."

Singleton continued by saying that Chairman Bell currently has two administrators working for him, as well as a chief administrator position that is currently vacant. "These [aides] will serve the district commissioners in the same capacity," Singleton said.

Ralph said he believes that, as the needs of the county continue to grow, so must the district commissioners' ability to respond to citizens. As all of the district commissioners currently serve on a part-time basis, Ralph said he believes the aides presented a way to provide full-time services.

"I think that, at some point, the board has to be responsive to the citizens in such a way that they have somebody who is here full-time to deal with their constituents' concerns," Ralph said.

"Usually, the district commissioners end up asking people [around the office] to do this and that for them," Ralph continued. "You can't send that person to represent you at a meeting that you can't attend. They can't help you with that kind of day-to-day stuff that you have to deal with."

"The district aide has to take on the personality of the commissioner they work with," he said. "If they had been civil service protected, those people would had been in place, no matter what commissioner was there."

Bright said the board has not discussed when it plans to fill the position, but said further discussions would take place.