Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners narrowly removed -- by a 3-2 vote -- a member of the county's housing authority board of commissioners, on Tuesday, five months after she raised questions about a county commissioner's use of housing authority funds and facilities.
County Attorney Michael Smith charged that Clayton County Housing Authority Commissioner Alita Knox did not turn in receipts for $528 in travel expenses from three trips she took in 2009 and 2010, to housing authority-related conferences, within a specified period of time, as mandated by housing authority policy.
The county commission held a hearing on the matter during its business meeting on Tuesday.
"The housing authority's travel policy ... states that [housing authority commissioners] are to provide detailed reports within seven days of their trip," Smith told commissioners. "I confirmed with the housing authority executive director, as well as their counsel, that numerous attempts were made to obtain this documentation from Mrs. Knox, and that documentation had not been received."
Knox admits she made mistakes in providing copies of her receipts to officials, in a timely manner, and attributed it to her being sick, and relying on receipts housing authority officials received when they made hotel and flight reservations for her.
She claims, however, that her removal was a simple case of retaliation after she questioned the use of housing authority funds to pay for security at a July 4, 2010, party Clayton County Commissioner Gail Hambrick hosted at a housing authority facility in College Park. "This is retaliation for the questions I asked, and for the answers I received," Knox said.
Hambrick, County Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, and Commissioner Sonna Singleton, voted to remove Knox from the housing authority board.
Hambrick denied there was any retaliation involved in the commission's decision to remove Knox. "We're going strictly from a housing authority policy that the travel should have been turned in within seven days, and all the other members have to abide by that," she said.
Hambrick added that she did now know Knox had questioned the money for the security guard. "They never told me who brought it up," she said.
The action taken against Knox, the housing authority board's vice chairman, had some people in attendance at Tuesday's commission meeting scratching their heads, and questioning whether Knox's questioning of Hambrick led to her removal.
Knox said that last August, she raised questions about a $100 expense at Premier Gardens, a Clayton County Housing Authority apartment complex in College Park. Her questions, she said, lead to revelations from apartment management that the money was spent on security for the Fourth of July party Hambrick held in the complex's club house.
Knox said her questions, in turn, led to community activists claiming that Hambrick misused the money. Knox said, however, Hambrick -- a former housing authority board member -- should not have even been using the clubhouse in the first place.
"Residents don't use it, and it's not rented out to the public," Knox said. "It's misuse of office, because she obtained the clubhouse based on her status [as a county commissioner]."
Hambrick asserted that she did not misuse her office. "I requested to use the facility, and was given an 'OK' answer by the manager of the facility," she said. She said she repaid the money. Knox said the housing authority had no proof that Hambrick paid the money, which allegedly was a cash payment.
Clayton County Housing Authority Board Chairman James Searcy questioned why the complaint against Knox was brought by fellow housing authority board member, Dorothy Morris, two weeks after she was appointed to the board by the county commission, in the fall of 2010.
"This should not have come down to what it did," Searcy said. "To know that a colleague, new on the board, comes in there as a secret agent, instead of as a fellow commissioner. That's not right ... I do not believe you're hearing the true story." He added he did not know for whom Morris was working -- in his words - as a secret agent. Morris did not attend the commission meeting on Tuesday.