A bid to amend Clayton County Manager Wade Starr’s employment agreement died quietly Tuesday night when members of the county commission did not act to approve changes negotiated by Starr, Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell and Interim County Attorney Jack Hancock.
The recommended changes would have stripped Starr of his ability to be paid consulting fees for serving as a consultant to the county during pending litigation issues, and to be re-imbursed for work-related expenses, at a rate equal to commission members, according to Hancock.
The attorney also told commissioners the changes would include an added provision that would have allowed Starr’s employment to be terminated, without severance pay, if he committed a crime that involves moral turpitude.
What followed Hancock’s presentation on the proposed amendments was a full minute, mostly full of silence, after Bell called for a motion to be made to approve the amendments to the employment contract. No one on the commission made the motion to approve the changes, and the effort to amend Starr’s contract died with a whimper.
“There is no action to be taken on this, Madame Clerk, I suggest we move on to whatever comes next,” a grim-faced Bell told commission clerk, Shelby Haywood, after waiting for the motion that never came.
The lack of a motion leaves uncertainty as to whether the employment agreement will eventually be altered at all. The contract is set to last through June 30, 2013, with Starr scheduled to earn an annual salary of $150,000.
Starr said he was willing to accept the changes to his contract, if they were ever approved by county commissioners, but Bell could not be reached after the meeting to see if he plans to bring up the issue again. “There was a mistake made in that contract,” he said. “I’m prepared to change it.”
Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said during the meeting that he was willing to second any motion to amend the contract, but he did not indicate a desire to make the initial motion himself. He put the ball in the chairman’s court, after the meeting, explaining he was waiting for Bell to take the lead on the issue, and make the motion himself.
“Anybody [on the commission] can make a motion,” Ralph said. “I was unsure of his readiness. He had indicated he had just been in negotiations on that issue. I wasn’t in those negotiations, and so I thought it was appropriate that he bring forward a recommendation.”
Bell said, during the meeting, that he and Hancock decided to make changes to the contract, with input from Starr, after taking a closer look at the agreement, following its passage last month.
“Ladies and gentleman, you passed on this contract at our last regular meeting [on Sept. 20], and after examining it, the attorney and I had a meeting with Mr. Starr, and we make the following recommendation this evening to you to consider,” the chairman told his fellow commissioners.
Hancock then gave a brief explanation of why the changes were being made, mostly calling the amendments “clean-up items.” But, he admitted at one point that an item recommended for removal “was included, quite candidly, on the form that was used, and did not apply to this transaction.” The item in question was the consulting fees clause.
Starr later said the county used the form for an engineer’s contract as the template for the county manager position’s employment agreement. He added that he did have input on the content of the contract, but he also said it was people in the county’s law department who wrote the agreement.
“There was an error in the contract that I missed in my review of it,” Starr said, referring to the consulting fees clause. “There was a particular aspect of it ... that we had to remove.” The county manager said that clause was “inadvertently” left in the employment agreement. He added there were questions raised about whether he had to work, or if he would get paid.
“I volunteered to include additional language to show my commitment to doing the job,” Starr said. He later added, “I’m committed to making Clayton County the best county it could be.”
Starr attempted to ask for permission to address the commission after several seconds had passed without a motion being made to approve the amendment. But, Bell cut him off and stated, “The matter’s in the hands of the board.”
Not everyone was OK with the lack of a motion to amend the contract, however. The commission opened the public comment section of its meeting right after the amendments died, and the issue was immediately brought up by Jonesboro resident, Carl Swensson, who opened his remarks by accusing commissioners of showing attendees that “cronyism is alive and well here in Clayton County...
“A position that was recently created for this wonderful county manager will now pay out a wonderful retirement, regardless of any crime that he may commit,” said Swensson, who often speaks out at commission meetings about spending issues. “Thank you very much for that.”