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Clayton DA asked to probe Baskin matter

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In another twist in an ongoing dispute between the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin, the Clayton County District Attorney has been asked to investigate what Baskin's attorney says is abuse and intimidation on the part of some board members.

On Friday, Baskin's attorney, Steve Frey, hand-delivered a letter to the office of District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, requesting that she conduct an investigation into recent actions taken by the board against Baskin. Those actions include: Budget cuts which specially targeted take-home cars in the Tax Commissioner's office; the repossession of take-home cars from Baskin's office, which resulted in Baskin being arrested for obstruction; and a letter sent by the board to the Office of the Governor this week asking the governor to come down on Baskin for allegedly not handing over the county's tax proceeds to the board since June 11.

In the letter, Frey deems board members' recent actions to be "oppressive, partial," and "an abuse of their powers as members of the Commission" and asked Lawson to "conduct the proper investigation necessary to determine whether the Board's recent actions, under the color of their office, have been oppressive and tyrannical in nature."

"We believe that the resolution that was passed in the beginning of July [to repossess the Tax Commissioner's vehicles] had no reasonable purpose other than to penalize Mr. Baskin," Frey said. "The reason why they would want to penalize him, I believe, is because he supported the opposition of one of the three [Commissioners Wole Ralph, Sonna Singleton, and Gail Hambrick] in their campaign. The arrest, if it was not pre-designed, it was obviously a consequence they were not worried about."

On Friday, Dennis Baker, chief of staff for the district attorney, said the office had received the letter from Frey, but had not yet had time to review it.

"I am sure that we will be in touch with those people in a prompt manor," Baker said. "We'll look at it and review it, and go from there."

The dispute stems from a resolution adopted by Ralph, Singleton, and Hambrick on June 29, in which Baskin's department was specifically requested to return the two take-home vehicles, no later than July 1.

On July 6, after the board's demands were not met, the board adopted a second, more specific ordinance demanding that Baskin's office return the vehicles to the Clayton County Fleet Maintenance Department no later than 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, July 7. The resolution further directed the county's chief of staff to "take whatever action is available to recover said vehicles and cause their return."

On the morning of July 9, the county sent Clayton County police officers to recover the two vehicles. After refusing to let officers tow the two vehicles, Baskin was arrested on obstruction charges and released shortly after the incident with a citation.

On July 19, the county attorney sent Baskin's office a letter stating that the office had refused to turn over tax proceeds to the county since June 11. Baskin's attorney countered the argument, saying the board was informed by Baskin repeatedly that the money was available at the Tax Commissioner's Office for pick up.

On Tuesday, Ralph, Singleton, and Hambrick voted in favor of sending a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue, requesting him to "provide notice to the Tax Commissioner of his failure to make payment and file reports as required by law and that he show cause [to the Governor] why he should not be removed from office."

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said that he personally recovered the county's tax proceeds -- $1.6 million collected since June 11 -- from Baskin's office on Friday afternoon. Bell said that, at this time, he does not believe an investigation by the district attorney is feasible or necessary, but said that he would call a meeting with Baskin's office next week to resolve the issue.

"I have all confidence in the DA's ability to sort through the law and conduct an investigation, if it is deserved," Bell said. "Knowing what I know about the law ... I don't hear anything that violates the law of Georgia to the point that the district attorney would have standing. I will seek a meeting with the Tax Commissioner next week to determine whether or not there is a capability on the part of the bank that he is working with to wire the money to the county. Hopefully, it will not require any other action, if we do that.

"I think it's all just petty politics," Bell added. "It's time for us to get back to the job that Clayton County hired us to do."