By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved an ordinance Tuesday revising the county's building-code regulations.
The new measure clarifies the roles of officials responding to building-code violations, and eliminates four construction-related volunteer boards. It replaces them with a single, new Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals.
The vote was 3-2 to approve the new codes, with BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell and Commissioner Michael Edmondson opposed. The new ordinance eliminates the county's electrical, plumbing, building, and HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) boards -- all with five, volunteer members -- and replaces them with one, five-member construction board, with two alternate members.
The new construction board, according to the ordinance, will "at all times consist of one member certified and/or licensed by the Georgia Secretary of State's Office as a general contractor, one member as an electrical contractor, one member as a plumbing contractor, and one member as a mechanical contractor."
Edmondson said he is worried that the construction board, which makes recommendations to approve, or deny electrical, plumbing, building, and HVAC work in the county, would lack expertise in any one area. "My concern is, will the make-up of that board be able to efficiently represent the best interests of the people coming before it?"
Bell complained that the changes limit citizen participation in government, reducing the membership in building-related boards from 20 to seven. "I was not given an argument as to why one would be better than the other."
Clayton County Chief of Staff, and Interim Director of Community Development, Alex Cohilas, who presented the changes, said the county is now more in line with the standard adopted by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and eliminates "inconsistency between the fire code and building codes." In addition, he argued the creation of the construction board would streamline the appeal process.
"This makes sure that the building codes and fire codes are in perfect harmony," he said. "It will allow safer buildings to be built to higher standards. It will increase the consistency of the appeals and it will save taxpayer dollars by not having to pay per diems for four different boards."
Each member of the boards eliminated was paid a "per diem of about $50 per meeting," Cohilas said. He also said the new codes will give the county more tools to address a "slumlord" operation that requires the response of multiple agencies. The code clearly states that individuals acting under the Department of Community Development, the Police Department, the Fire Marshal, or the Clayton County Board of Health have the right to make entry, inspect, and cite properties for violations. "This will allow them to have entry to enforce the codes," he added.
In another action, the board unanimously denied a request from State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) to host a "Peace and Unity Block Party" at the Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center on July 10. She said the event would be a repeat of a community event co-hosted by her, with the county's blessings, in July 2007. She argued that other legislators have used county centers, and have not had to get board approval. She called the denial "retaliation" for her criticizing the board for eliminating the county's C-TRAN bus service.
"You can't make up new rules just for me. Because they are pissed off with me, they are going to hurt the citizens .. that's not right," she told a reporter later.
Bell said Abdul-Salaam's initial plans for the event included a partnership, in which the county would provide transportation for some participants. He said he and other members of the board did not have enough information to approve the decision.
"I didn't know enough about what I was committing the county to, so I couldn't support it. If she brings forth a complete plan, I will support her having it. Whatever we have done in the county, I want to make sure it is done fair, and equitably."
The board also voted Tuesday to unanimously approve a three-year lease agreement between the City of Jonesboro and the county for use of 264 Main St., in Jonesboro, the current site of Clayton County Fire Station No. 13. The county's fire department will continue to use the facility, leasing the building for $70,000 a year, with a right to purchase it after three years.