By Joel Hall
A day before a hearing in a lawsuit Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell filed against his fellow commissioners and Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas, the board voted to strip Cohilas of some of his executive responsibilities.
During a special called meeting Thursday, the Board of Commissioners deleted the first section of a resolution that established the chief of staff's job description, and added a revised version of the responsibilities of the position.
The new version, approved by a 3-1 vote (with Bell opposed, and Commissioner Michael Edmondson absent), eliminates the chief of staff's ability to hire and fire the "chairman's administrative and executive assistants." Bell has argued that the chief-of-staff position is an usurpation of his power as chairman.
The second and third sections of the three-part resolution remain intact, preserving the chief of staff as an interim appointment, and establishing that the chief of staff's salary will equate to an additional "10 percent of the interim appointee's salary," taken from the BOC's budget.
According to the revised resolution, Cohilas, in his duties as chief of staff, "will provide oversight, including hiring and firing," for the BOC's administrative positions. On the list are the county's office manager, administrative secretary, receptionists, grant writer coordinator, other secretaries, public relations specialists, constituent aides, clerk, and assistant clerk.
Cohilas will also retain his current duties as the county's fire chief.
Commissioner Wole Ralph said the changes clear up misconceptions that the position conflicts with the chairman's authority.
"There is said to be some confusion that the chief administrative assistant reports to the chief of staff [rather than to the chairman]," Ralph said. He said the chief of staff's oversight of the chairman's assistants "isn't in there anymore."
After the meeting, Bell said the board's decision to alter Cohilas' responsibilities, rather than eliminate the position, is "further action on their part to ignore the [authority of] members of the General Assembly to establish the form of government."
Frank Jenkins, Bell's attorney in the lawsuit, said the board's actions Thursday constitute an admission of error. He believes the last-minute changes will bolster his argument that the board is attempting to overtake the office of the chairman.
"They caught one of the errors and they tried to cure that," Bell said. "It is very clear that they were trying to give those powers to the chief of staff, which would obviously be unlawful.
"They have found one error and they haven't corrected them all," he added. "I plan to point that out to the court."
A hearing in the lawsuit will take place today before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield.
Richard Carothers, the lawyer representing the board and Cohilas, left Thursday's meeting before he could be interviewed. Attempts to reach Carothers after the meeting proved unsuccessful.
After the meeting, attempts to contact Commissioners Gail Hambrick and Sonna Singleton, and Cohilas about the changes also were unsuccessful.
In other action Thursday, 15 minutes prior to the meeting, the board's new Finance Committee established its officers, rules, and meeting times after action taken at its Jan. 20 meeting were ruled void, because that meeting was not publicized in accordance with Georgia law.
The decisions made during the first meeting were officially confirmed, making Ralph the committee's chairman and Hambrick the committee's vice chairman.
Cohilas, Finance Director Angela Jackson, and Policy and Planning Director and Fleet Maintenance Director Wade Starr also were confirmed as standing members of the Finance Committee.
Cohilas, Jackson, and Starr will be required to attend the meetings of the Finance Committee, but will not have a vote, according to Ralph.
The meetings will take place on the Monday before any regularly-scheduled business meeting of the county commission at 8 a.m. Prior to the regular business meetings, the members of the Finance Committee will provide the full board with financial recommendations.