By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has published its intent to cancel its chairman's ability to appoint a chief administrative assistant by eliminating the position, and replacing it with a chief of staff appointed by a vote of the full board.
Today, the board will host its first reading of a proposed ordinance change.
If approved, the chief of staff will take direction from the chairman and the board. The ordinance also seeks to alter the board's meeting schedule, so that regular business meetings take place on the first, second, and third Tuesdays of each month, rather than on the first and third Tuesdays.
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance on April 7.
BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell recently sued his fellow commissioners, claiming the chief of staff position - which was created by the board on Dec. 9 and struck down by a Clayton County Superior Court ruling on March 12 - circumvented his powers as chairman to appoint a chief administrator. If approved, the proposed ordinance would strip Bell of the ability to appoint a chief administrator entirely, and allow him to only appoint administrative assistants, who are subordinate to the chief of staff.
"This is new," Bell said. "The attempt to remove [the chief administrator] is one thing. Removing it violates the form of government that we currently have.
"I wish they would do what the judge has asked them to do," he continued. "If they [the board] are truly interested in changing the form of government, they should go to the General Assembly and ask them to do that."
Commissioner Michael Edmondson, who championed the creation of the chief of staff position, deferred comment to legal council on Monday.
Richard Carothers, the lawyer who defended the board and Fire Chief Alex Cohilas against Bell's lawsuit, said the board is simply moving forward to correct a procedural error.
Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield ruled in Bell's favor on March 12, because the board failed to approve the chief of staff job during two consecutive, regular business meetings.
"The clear intent of the majority of the commission is that this change be made," Carothers said. "We didn't agree with her ruling, but we respect it. We are going to correct the error that the judge pointed out in her ruling.
"I don't think it takes away anything from the current powers of the chairman," Carothers said. "That's what we argued in the first case, but we never got that far, because of the procedural defect. They just feel like it is better to have the majority of the board voting on who is the chief of staff ... I think the commission feels that is balanced."
Frank Jenkins, Bell's attorney in the recent lawsuit, said the board's attempt to eliminate Bell's ability to appoint a chief administrator shows a lack of cooperation on the part of the board.
"What is unfortunate is that the chairman has said it's time to sit down and talk about how the issues should be resolved," he said. "They are going boldly forward on their own. I don't know if what they are doing, they can lawfully do.
"They've operated under the system that was set up by the General Assembly for a long time," Jenkins added. "This board has decided to change it on their own. They didn't get it right the last time, and they might not get it right the next time."
Commissioner Wole Ralph, who supported the creation of the chief of staff job, has also said he would consider a chief administrator appointment by Bell. He said there is an urgent need to fill the position.
"No matter what you call the position, the role is needed," he said. "That is the over-arching issue. This commission feels like we need to fill that role in order to move government in a way that is effective, economical, and efficient."
Commissioner Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick could not be reached for comment on Monday.