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Clayton police academy officially eliminated

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy officially ceased to exist, as of Friday, according to county officials. In addition, the academy's director, Jeff Turner, as well as five other county officers, are no longer employed, according to county Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas.

The police training academy, which was first approved by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council in December 1974, and began training area police officers on Feb. 3, 1975, shut its doors on Friday, according to Cohilas. He said the jobs of Turner and his staff, which included three lieutenants, one captain, and a secretary, were eliminated on Friday, in accordance with budget cuts the county approved on June 29.

"Those employees were eliminated through the budget process as part of the budget adoption," Cohilas said Friday. "All employment with that agency was eliminated as of today.

"We're not going to re-purpose it [the police academy building] anytime soon," he said. "We don't have $400,000 to fix the building right now. Right now, the building is uninhabitable, because the mold needs to be mitigated.

"We'll look into the possibility of selling it, but it is not really a seller's market," he said.

At the time of the academy's closure today, approximately 25 police academy recruits were enrolled in the program's night mandate class. On Friday, Cohilas said the county was "working out an arrangement with another agency to take over the training," of the recruits, a change in direction from comments made in a July interview, in which Cohilas suggested the academy would stay open until the completion of the night mandate class.

Turner, who offered his resignation more than two weeks earlier, was in the midst of re-negotiating his employment with the county, so that he could stay with the county long enough to earn early, retirement benefits. According to Turner, those conversations fell through this week.

"From the information that was provided to me, today was my last day," Turner said Friday. "I turned in all of my equipment, and my county-assigned vehicle. Apparently, it was obvious that we couldn't come to an agreement in terms of me staying until Oct. 14," he said.

"They made a proposal, and to me, it was not in my best interest."

Turner would not discuss the details of his negotiations with the county on Friday. He said he needed to be employed with the county until Oct. 14 to earn 25 years of service -- enough time to draw retirement benefits at the age of 55.

According to Turner, he will now have to wait until the age of 60 to draw pension benefits. He is presently 46 years old.

Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, argued that the board eliminated the positions within the police academy without the prior approval of the Clayton County Civil Service Board. He said a special-called Civil Service Board meeting will take place on Tuesday, at 2 p.m., to ultimately determine the fate of the police academy's employees.

"I believe the county commission is doing everything it can to fire Jeff Turner without giving him a means to defend himself, whether it complies with their rules or not," Martin said. "The board [of commissioners] needs Civil Service Board approval to abolish the positions. They have not done it," he said. "They can close the academy all they want, but they can't unilaterally put people out of work."

Cohilas argued that "the elected officials of this county have full authority by law to make budgetary decisions, and that includes the elimination of positions."

Bill Atkins, another attorney representing Turner, declined to comment on Turner's negotiations with the county on Friday.

Following a public hearing in December, in which Turner was accused by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) of mismanaging the police department, the board voted to transfer him to the police academy. On June 29, the board voted to close the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, citing budgetary shortfalls.

Turner has been unable to appeal the board's decision to the Civil Service Board, because he was transferred to the police academy with equal pay, as opposed to being fired.

Turner said he has applied for all three of the new training officer positions created by the county, upon its decision to close the police academy. However, Turner said he will also seek employment elsewhere.

"Previous discussion led me to believe that I would be able to ride out my time until the end of October," Turner said. "I'm going to move on and seek other employment and continue to go on with my life."