Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
After a lengthy debate by its members, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to create an administrative county manager position on Tuesday.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to create the position, with Chairman Eldrin Bell and Commissioner Michael Edmondson voting against the controversial measure. Later, the county's governing body voted 3-2 again, with Bell and Edmondson again opposed, to set the position's salary range at $140,000, and $150,000, per year.
Edmondson said the decision to create the position effectively weakened Bell's position on the commission.
"Legal technicalities and semantics aside, the ordinance tonight, in creating and vesting a county manager with all administrative functions within the county ... clearly changes how we operate," Edmondson said. "From my perspective, the chairman, both the individual and the position, has just been stripped of every function, with the exception of signing checks."
The county manager's duties will include serving as the department head for all employees in the Clayton County Board of Commissioners office, in Jonesboro.
The consideration of the county manager position has been controversial for some time, as a few commission observers have previously said they saw the position as a way to give greater power to county Fleet Maintenance Director Wade Starr. Starr is a controversial figure, who many claim is a behind-the-scenes player in county operations.
Commission Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph said no decision has been made about who will fill the position. "We'll do a search for this position," he said. "We'll advertise in professional journals, on the web site, and various professional publications."
Bell said the position's creation went against the will of county voters. "The people elected me to run this government [with] the administrative and executive responsibilities, and this goes against that," the chairman said.
Last week, Ralph said he felt the position was needed because he was not satisfied with the way the county's budget approval process was carried out this year.
One of the more controversial moments in the county manager discussions came when Edmondson accused some commissioners of signing the act before a vote on the measure had taken place. He held up the page of the ordinance that contained the signatures, for the audience to see, and attendees gasped in response.
Bell said, in his opinion, however, the signing of the ordinance before the vote did not matter. "It has no binding power at all," he said. "What is in the record [of the meeting] is the binding power."
The commission also voted unanimously to sell the Tara Field airport, in Hampton, to the Henry County government, in an unexpected vote that had not been on the body's meeting agenda.