Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
In a surprise move on Tuesday night, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to accept the resignation of Michael Smith, who has served as the county's attorney for more than six years. The resignation is effective immediately.
The move was shrouded in mystery as Smith declined to comment after the meeting about why he was stepping down. He and Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell deferred questions about the reason for the resignation to a letter Smith wrote to the commission, which only said he was "regretfully" leaving "to pursue other opportunities."
Bell, and Commissioner Michael Edmondson voted against accepting Smith's resignation. No successor was named at the meeting, leaving the county without an attorney to stand as the leader of its legal department.
"This is a sad day, and I'll have to depend upon the staff that's in the law department to step in," Bell said. He declined to comment further on the resignation.
Smith, according to his resignation letter, had been the county's attorney since February 2005. In his letter, he offered to stay on until June 24, so the county could hire a new lead attorney, and a transition could take place. But Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, and Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted to accept the resignation and make it effective immediately.
After the meeting, commissioners quickly left the meeting room without offering any comment on the resignation.
Smith's resignation comes at a time when he could be called to testify before a Clayton County grand jury, against the county's finance director, Angela Jackson. Since early March, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson has been seeking an indictment of Jackson, on four felony counts of "Avoid a Public Record," and one misdemeanor count of allegedly violating the state's records retention law.
Jackson has been accused, by two Rex residents, of shredding commissioners' cell phone records the two asked for through an open records request. In mid-April, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield ruled that Lawson could call Smith and county staff attorney, Christie Cross-Barnes, to testify before the grand jury, concerning Jackson's handling of the cell phone records.
Benefield's ruling came, in spite of a resolution narrowly passed by the county commission in March, that said Smith and Cross-Barnes did not have to testify, because of attorney-client privilege.
When asked if Smith's resignation had anything to do with the Jackson situation, Bell only smirked, and said, "I cannot say." As Smith left the commission's meeting room, after his resignation was accepted by the commission, he walked out of the building with an employee of Lawson's office.
In his resignation letter, Smith cited several accomplishments he was proud of during his time as county attorney, including, an average of 250 resolutions and ordinances per year; prosecuting more than 2,000 code violations in 2010, and assisting in the establishment of a "hybrid" indigent defense system, in partnership with the Georgia Public Defenders Council.
"It was an honor and a privilege to be asked to represent Clayton County, serving you, the board and the county's citizens, during challenging times," Smith wrote in his resignation letter.