By Joel Hall
After taking several weeks to decide, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, in a unanimous decision, voted to implore the Georgia General Assembly to create a fifth state court judgeship to help clear a backlog of cases.
The motion had come up in several previous regular meetings of the board, but in each meeting, a decision was delayed.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the board came to Tuesday's decision after learning the county would be able to financially support an additional judge, as well as additional support staff.
"Not unlike the rest of the nation, Clayton County faces budget challenges resulting from revenue losses and increased cost," he said. "However, as late as yesterday, new revenue information has come to us that gives me an increased level of confidence in our financial department's overall financial security. I strongly believe that the good citizens of Clayton County need and deserve justice and in order to provide a level of protection, we must have additional help in our courts to deal with the 4,000 backlogged cases."
Yolanda Lewis, court administrator for the Clayton County State and Superior courts, said the decision was "a step in the right direction."
"Right now, you have four judges trying to do the work of 9.7 [judges]," she said. "It certainly shows that we are putting citizens first in regards to justice."
The board also voted unanimously Tuesday to support legislation in the Georgia General Assembly to create a Metropolitan Atlanta Aerotropolis Authority. Bell said that an "aerotropolis," a mixed-used commercial and office development planned for the north end of the county, would provide a boost to the local economy, and that the authority would bring it closer to becoming a reality.
"I'm a firm believer that it's the greatest economic development tool that Clayton County has ever had since the development of the airport," he said.
In addition, the board unanimously approved several reorganization recommendations made by former Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas. Last Thursday, a Clayton County Superior Court judge overturned the board's decision in December to create the chief of staff position.
Renee Bright, director of the county's personnel department, read the recommendations to the board in Cohilas' absence, as Cohilas was excused from the meeting due to a death in the family.
As part of the reorganization, the board put the Refuse Control department under the direction of the Clayton County Prison. Effective immediately, the department will be run by Frank Smith, the prison's warden. The board also separated the county's Senior Services division from the Parks and Recreation department and created an entirely new Senior Services Department.
Bright said the decision would save money and allow the county to better focus on senior citizen issues.
"The discussion took place when [Cohilas] was chief of staff," said Bright. "The duties they [refuse control] perform, they use inmates, so it just made sense. The Parks and Recreation department, their focus is wide. By creating the Senior Services Department, they will focus strictly on seniors."
Clayton County Senior Services Administrator Mary Byrd will become director of the new department, Bright said.