0

Facing elimination, Jeff Turner retires

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

As of today, Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy Director Jeff Turner will no longer have a job. As his department faces elimination, the former Clayton County Police Chief will retire, effective today, after nearly 25 years on the force.

According to Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas, Turner tendered his resignation earlier this week. Cohilas said the police academy would continue to operate in a limited fashion until a group of 25 law enforcement candidates taking night classes at the academy are able to complete their training.

"Turner came in with the paperwork on Monday morning," Cohilas said Thursday. "In his own volition ... he's resigned effective tomorrow, but he'll qualify for full retirement. It's a vested resignation.

"The county is going to fulfill it's obligation to those night students," Cohilas added. "Captain [Robin] Hollingsworth has been the instructor since its [the most recent class of night students'] inception. She will continue to be the instructor."

On June 29, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted to close the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, amid other budget cuts. Cohilas said the academy was scheduled for closure "on, or about, Aug. 1," but that it was not a "hard date."

Turner said given the academy's pending elimination and the number of pay periods in July, he was informed by the county's finance department that it would be "beneficial" for him to retire by the end of the month.

"Tomorrow, I am effectively retiring due to the elimination of my position," Turner said Thursday. "There are three pay periods in this month. Basically, I end up getting more of my retirement paycheck, if I retire now. If they weren't eliminating my position, I wouldn't be retiring."

Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, said with Turner's years of service and accrued annual leave combined, Turner has put in 24 years and 9 months with the county police department -- just three-months short of the 25 years needed for officers to draw retirement benefits at the age of 55. Turner, who is 46, will have to wait until the age of 60 to draw any benefits, according to Martin.

"He needed 25 years, and they are canning him with 24 years and 9 months," Martin said. "This seems like their intention from day one. This was a deliberate course of conduct to get rid of Jeff Turner."

In response, Cohilas said Turner actually had 24 years and 11 months of total accrued service to the county and questioned Turner's decision.

"He's claiming three months, but it's really one month, which makes his decision even more curious," Cohilas said. "The county didn't tell him to end it July 23."

Martin said he will file an appeal and a grievance with the Clayton County Civil Service Board on behalf of Turner today, with the goal of receiving a Civil Service Board hearing.

"We're going to ask the county to live by its own code and look into the sordid series of events that has brought us here," Martin said. "Let's see if the county will run from a public airing of the full events."

Following a public hearing in December, in which Turner was accused by the BOC of mismanaging the police department, the board voted to transfer him to the police academy. Cohilas said the Civil Service Board was required to hear appeals considering demotions, suspensions, or terminations, but not grievances considering the merit of transfers.

"An appeal is binding, but the only thing[s] that can be appealed [are] demotion, suspension, or termination," Cohilas said. "I don't know if the Civil Service Board will hear it, or if this falls under something they can hear."

Human Resources Director Renee Bright could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Last Friday, BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said during an interview, that a Civil Service Board hearing would not likely take place until after the county completes an internal investigation into Turner's actions during his tenure as police chief.

Cohilas said the investigation was not yet complete, but may be completed "pretty soon."

"The administrative investigation on whether he broke policy or not, that is still open," he said. "We are still waiting for a couple more documents to come in."

The investigation, originally scheduled to take four weeks to complete, was started in late December.

Turner said that despite retiring at a chief's rank, he has applied for Instructor I, Instructor II, and Instructor III positions at the police department -- three new officer training positions created within the police department upon the elimination of the police academy. He said the Instructor III position was equal to a captain's pay, a significant pay cut from the six-figure salary he made as chief and director of the police academy.

"A paycheck is better than no paycheck," Turner said. "I still have a family to feed. I'm not ego-driven. I don't need a title. I have to think about my family first and foremost."

Martin argued that the job descriptions for the three new positions have been "intentionally crafted" in a way that would make it difficult for Turner to successfully apply. Turner said despite the turn of events, he would still enjoy being employed by the county police department.

"Not only have I enjoyed working for the citizens of Clayton County, but I really appreciate all the love and support they have given me throughout my career, especially throughout the last six months," he said. "There are great people who live in Clayton County and great people who work in Clayton County ... that would be the driving factor."