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Commission removes housing authority board members

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to support legislation to create an ethics commission for the Clayton County Board of Education.

While still in draft form, the legislation would create a way of overseeing the actions and conduct of the BOE, if passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the governor.

The hope among some Clayton legislators and other leaders is that such a move -- along with other corrective measures -- might help convince the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to change its recommendation that the Clayton school system's accreditation be revoked as of Sept. 1.

In another important matter, the BOC voted 4-1, with Chairman Eldrin Bell dissenting, to remove Housing Authority Chairman Paul Jones, and board members, Tim Tittle and Courtney Woods-Edwards, from their positions for what the board perceives as financial misconduct.

On Tuesday, the board concluded that the three board members willingly accepted compensation in their capacity as board members of the Facilities Holding Company (FHC), a separate, limited liability company created by the Housing Authority to manage Premier Garden Apartments.

After reviewing the minutes of past FHC meetings, Clayton County staff attorney Michael Smith concluded that the organization -- against the recommendation of its legal counsel -- voted on March 15, 2006 to pay FHC board members $500 per month in compensation.

The law states that housing authority members cannot be compensated for their service on the board. Commissioner Wole Ralph led the charge against the members and made the motion which ultimately led to the BOC's removal of the three housing authority board members.

"Everything [Commissioner Wole Ralph] says is correct for the Housing Authority," Jones said. However, he argued that the FHC serves in a different capacity than the housing authority and should be held to different standards.

Ralph disagreed, citing that FHC legal advisor, Steve Fincher, had -- prior to the March 2006 vote -- informed the FHC that it would not be "prudent" for FHC members to receive compensation.

"They knowingly engaged in an attempt to circumvent the law," said Ralph. "It's clear at this point that our board must take the prudent steps to remove the members of the FHC to maintain the fiscal integrity of the county."

Chairman Bell, who voted against removing the housing authority board members, did not believe the accusations rose to a level worthy of dismissal.

"We've got conflicting statements ... I'm not comfortable with it, and I'm not ready to find these men guilty," he said.

On the ethics commission issue for the school board, the commissioners all agreed to support legislation that is currently being crafted. State Rep. Michael Glanton (D-Jonesboro), who is leading a group of lawmakers in drafting the legislation, publically thanked the BOC for its support.

"I know that we're sometimes reluctant as governmental bodies to cross over and get involved in anybody else's business," said Glanton. "I do appreciate the courage of this board tonight."

"We want the people to know that the county [commissioners] are not putting their heads in the sand about this," Bell said.