By Joel Hall
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox apologized on Monday, after receiving criticism from council members for making an unauthorized, $16,444 expenditure for an annexation survey.
In other business, the council approved a city-wide hiring freeze, with an exception allowing the police department to fill a vacant officer position.
During the meeting, Maddox admitted to spending $16,444 in December on an annexation survey without a vote of the city council. According Jonesboro city ordinances, the mayor can spend up to $1,000 without the board's approval.
Council members chastised the mayor, and asked why they were not a part of the discussion. "Why did you not afford the council the opportunity to know," asked Councilman Rick Yonce.
"I think that we should all try to follow the rules as closely as possible," said Councilman Clarence Mann. "If we can't do that, we are no better than the previous administration that we condemn so much."
In 2007, former Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day was the subject of even more ire when she used $21,506 from the city's contingency fund to purchase a Ford Expedition SUV for city use. The purchase was made without the city council's approval.
Maddox said that "over a year ago," the city council approved a proposed annexation project, the plans of which required submittal to the Clayton County Legislative Delegation prior to the 2009 Georgia legislative session. The annexation survey was submitted to the delegation on Dec. 18, but the plans ultimately did not garner the delegation's support, Maddox said.
"This was for an annexation study that we needed," he said. However, "as the mayor, I promise that you will not have this problem come up again.
"I learned from my mistakes, and I will not make that [mistake] again," he added. "I will have everything in writing ... I will depend on nobody's memory, even my own."
At another stage of the meeting, councilmembers voted 4-2 to approve an indefinite, city-wide hiring freeze, with the exception that the Jonesboro Police Department will be able to replace an officer who resigned on March 23.
A dispute among citizens, the mayor, and Brad Johnson, the city's police chief, unfolded during the meeting, as a result of the mayor giving Johnson an executive order not to hire another officer until after the city's April meeting.
Maddox argued that the city's sales tax revenue is presently 8 percent below what it was the same time last year, and that the city needs to start taking cost-cutting measures.
Several citizens argued that the money for an officer was already included in the city's 2009 fiscal year budget, and that they preferred safety over savings. "We all enjoy a pretty low crime rate, because of the hard work of our police department," said Ed Wise, a Jonesboro resident. "It would be a shame, and dangerous, if we lost anymore police officers."
Chief Johnson said the city currently has a budget for 23 sworn officers, 15 of whom are patrolmen. He said the department needs every police officer it has.
"We're just holding our own," he said. "The reason we have a low crime rate is because of the officers per capita. By freezing that, we would have been down to 14 [patrolmen].
"It is a guaranteed fact that when the economy goes south, the crime rate goes north," Johnson added. "It's a bad trade-off."
The hiring freeze will apply to all city departments, including the police department, once it hires its new officer. Maddox described the decision as a "compromise."
"Everybody can't win every time," he said. "I'm just hoping the economy will turn around."