By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to take a more proactive stance on the Clayton County Public Schools' accreditation issue.
During its regular business meeting, the board passed a motion to meet in an official capacity with the representatives of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), as well as Gov. Sonny Perdue's office. The purpose of the meetings would be to discuss how the BOC can play a greater role in saving the school system's accreditation.
"I think it's time for us to step up as a board and do something," said Commissioner Virginia Gray. She said developers and business owners have been delaying investments in the county until SACS makes a decision about the school system.
"From an economic standpoint, we are suffering," said Gray. "We need to do what we can to intervene and help with the situation."
"Everybody feels some frustration," said BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, noting the BOC does not have a direct impact on decisions made by the school board, as it is a separate government entity.
"We voted to ask the people from SACS and the governor's office to meet with our board, so we can ask for some suggestions on how we can help meet the nine requirements," said Bell, referring to mandates set by SACS to avoid a loss of accreditation.
The BOC did not give a specific date for the meetings, however.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, several public safety officials requested additional exceptions to the county's new vehicle policy. The BOC ultimately decided to study the requests of those departments and make a decision during the next regularly-scheduled business meeting on April 15.
Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner requested 25 additional take-home vehicles to be used by his officers. The county currently allows the police department 68 take-home vehicles.
Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas also requested three additional cars to be used by his officers outside of county lines to respond to arson investigations and other incidents. If approved, it would bring the department's number of approved take-home vehicles to eight.
Clayton County Prison Warden Frank Smith also requested that a duty officer in the prison be granted mileage compensation for use of his personal vehicle to respond to department-related matters.
Commissioner Gray was hesitant to immediately grant the wishes of the three departments, based on the county's tightened budget. "We're having to continue to operate with less dollars like everybody else," said Gray, addressing Turner's request for 25 additional take-home vehicles. "I think we need to focus on the major necessities, and I don't think we are putting in enough effort to curb some of these requirements."
Turner detailed the benefits of additional take-home vehicles, and listed several police departments in the metro area and within the county that use take-home vehicles as a "recruitment tool."
He added that allowing officers to take home more vehicles would improve parking at the Police Headquarters, which Turner described as "horrendous. When you're talking about solving crimes, the time in which information is gathered is very important," said Turner. "The longer that it takes us to get there, the further the suspect may be down the road."
Cohilas said he would work with the county about his request and respect its decision. "I regard our relationship with the board as a very team-oriented effort," said Cohilas. "We've been very frugal and have kept in mind the situation the county is in."