By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners moved Tuesday night to restore the county's chief-of-staff position.
In the same meeting, Commissioner Michael Edmondson moved to restore Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas to the position.
Both moves were passed by votes of 4-1, with Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed.
The position of chief of staff was originally created by the board last December, but Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield ruled March 12 in a lawsuit filed by Bell against the other board members that the position was created improperly.
Bell said Tuesday that the chief-administrative-assistant position, that the chief of staff replaces, required a person with a master's degree in public administration and 10 years of experience in county government. While Cohilas has served the county for decades, Bell said he believes the board should conduct a thorough search for a chief of staff.
"We need to do everything we can to find someone of the highest professional caliber," to fill the chief-of-staff position, Bell said. "I don't think we've done that."
Edmondson, who made the motions to both restore the chief of staff and put Cohilas back into the position, was confident in his decision.
"The basis upon which the judge ruled was a technicality," said Edmondson. "That technicality has been rectified. Whether or not we should have a chief of staff is obvious. Specifically for Cohilas, I received numerous calls from department heads asking that he be reinstalled.
"I do believe that Alex Cohilas is part of [Clayton County's] future," he said.
Lawyers for Bell, whose January lawsuit claimed that the chief-of-staff position usurped his powers as board chairman, have threatened to take the matter back to court if Cohilas was reinstalled. On Tuesday, Bell said "I am not ready" to say whether he would sue the board a second time.
Cohilas said his is outlook is "positive" and he is looking forward to getting "back to work."
"We've got a lot of work to do and I'm eager to get back to work in that role," he said. "I do not worry about tomorrow because my future, like everybody else's, is in God's hands."
In another discussion, the county's Transportation and Development department proposed drastic cutbacks to C-TRAN, the county's bus service. Jeff Metarko, director of the Transportation and Development department, said that currently, C-TRAN costs $10 million annually to operate and that the county is only receiving $2.5 million in fare box revenue.
Metarko identified the 500 route (the Airport loop) as an "under-performing route" and said that the route may be cut entirely. He also said that the county would consider cutting Saturday and Sunday services and increasing fares.
Frank Beauford, Clayton County public transit coordinator, said that the county may even consider re-bidding the service to another, cheaper operating company. MARTA is currently C-TRAN's operator.
Commissioner Wole Ralph said that C-TRAN's operation costs would be seriously considered in the county's upcoming budget discussions.
"While Clayton County's budget deficit is a moving target, one place where we know the bull's-eye is centered is C-TRAN," Ralph said. "This is something that we are really going to have to get a handle on. We may have to find a way to shrink a $10 million operation to a $3 million operation."