By Joel Hall
The chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners expressed concern, Tuesday, about an effort that, he said, might lead to less transparency in government, as the board considered an ordinance to do away with its monthly, public, work sessions.
The board also repealed a portion of an existing ordinance, giving Sheriff Kem Kimbrough more leeway to hire and promote deputies.
The commissioners conducted a first reading of an ordinance that would eliminate public work sessions. Those sessions are currently held on the second Tuesday of each month. Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he's worried that eliminating the sessions may lead citizens, and commissioners, to be less informed.
The work sessions "give commissioners a chance to bring up those things that require lengthy discussion," Bell said. "It gives an opportunity for the commissioners to become totally familiar, and it gives the public an opportunity to hear, totally, what is being discussed on a sensitive issue.
"Obviously," Bell said, "it's something the General Assembly wanted us to do, because they passed it in the law. The question I would raise is that, does it [the proposed ordinance] in any way impact the form of government?"
Michael Smith, the county's attorney, said Commissioner Wole Ralph requested that a first reading of the ordinance be placed on Tuesday's agenda. Ralph did not address the ordinance in Tuesday's meeting and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. The board is scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its next regular meeting Feb. 3.
In other action, the commissioners voted to repeal a portion of the Clayton County Civil Service Rules that regulates how the sheriff can promote people within his department.
Smith said the ordinance was enacted during former Sheriff Victor Hill's administration as a way to bring structure to the office's hiring procedures.
"In 2006, when [the board] enacted it, it was during a period of litigation," Smith said. "In the previous administration ... the sheriff set his own policy regarding promotions. There was concern from the board that Sheriff Hill would not establish any [policy], so the board established those procedures, which essentially mimics those of the police department and fire department. You have testing, a time of service to receive a certain rank, things of that nature."
Kimbrough said Hill ignored the ordinance, hiring and promoting deputies at will. He said the result was a sheriff's office with a dozen properly classified supervisors out of 390 personnel.
"They are repealing a portion of the ordinance that existed at my request," Kimbrough said. "It was an entirely reasonable ordinance. It had some flaws and things that could be worked on, but it became fatally flawed because Victor Hill never fully enacted it.
"Because Victor Hill had never implemented any portion of the ordinance," Kimbrough said, "I had only 12 properly classified supervisors in the sheriff's department. I, by necessity, had to bring outside help into the sheriff's department.
"I brought back with me a team of 20 people that had the experience base ... and the only way I could bring them back and give them the rank that was commensurate with their experience was to repeal this ordinance."
Kimbrough said that while in office, Hill made employees "work at a major's rank but do captain's work." Kimbrough said the new ordinance would allow employees in the sheriff's office to be paid according to their rank, and would allow rank and pay to be more closely aligned.
Former Sheriff Victor HIll could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.