Photo by Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on April 10 to remove a long-time ban on county employees running for county elected offices. Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell (center) said the decision was mainly due to the fact that the ban had never been enforced, anyway.
An often ignored Clayton County law, that barred county employees from seeking local elected offices, is — as the famous book title goes — “Gone With the Wind.”
The county’s code or ordinances and civil service rules and regulations had prohibitions in place, since at least 2003, that barred people who work for the county’s government from seeking county offices. These offices include: county commissioner seats, commission chairman, district attorney, solicitor general and sheriff.
The county commission voted unanimously last week to remove the ban from the county’s laws and employee rules. The abrupt decision to lift the prohibition came about, according to the head of the county commission, because it, frankly, had been ignored for years, anyway.
“I have been with the county now for eight years, and it’s been on the books, but I don’t remember it ever being enforced,” said Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. “My attitude is, if we’re not going to enforce it, let’s just remove it all together.”
Although the ban was rarely — if ever — enforced, its removal clears the way for at least two county employees who are announced candidates for a county office to run without fear of punishment. Clayton County Police Lt. Tina Daniel, and Jon Antoine, an investigator in the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office, have both publicly said they are candidates for sheriff of Clayton County.
They are just two in a crowded field of more than half a dozen people who have said they plan to run against current sheriff, Kem Kimbrough, this year. But, they are also the only two candidates in that field who would have been impacted if the ban had been allowed to stay in place.
Had the ban continued, under county law and civil service rules, Daniel and Antoine would have had to discontinue their campaigns, or face punishments ranging from suspension, to possibly losing their jobs.
“This was something that they looked at, and decided, ‘this needs to change,’ and so I’m very pleased about that,” said Daniel. It is believed that if elected, Daniel — who is one of two females who have said they are running for sheriff this year — would possibly be the first woman to hold the office. “I saw this as just one hurdle that I had to clear to making history,” she said.
Antoine added that, although he is pleased to see the ban lifted, it would not have mattered to him, if it had stayed in place. “It does make it easier [to run for elected office], but I was committed to do this, anyway,” he said.
Both candidates, as well as Bell, said employees who live in the county should have the same right as non-employees to run for local offices. The commission chairman explained that, in his opinion, employees have a Constitutional right to seek those offices, if they chose to pursue them.
Antoine said the county has lost many “excellent people” who were employees, and wanted to — at some point — run for county elected offices. He explained that those who have left, did so because they wanted to live somewhere where they were allowed to seek a place in their community’s decision-making process.
“We have our own ideas about some of the things that could be improved in this county, and we should be allowed to voice them like any other citizen,” he said.
At least five people have been allowed to run for elected offices in the county in the past, while simultaneously working for the county government, without punishment, according to Daniel.
Daniel explained that she feels it would have been fair for her and Antoine to be allowed to continue working in their jobs while running campaigns for sheriff this year. She said she had been pushing the commission to lift the ban, but declined to go into the specifics, because she said it involved legalities that she did not feel comfortable talking about.
“It’s been something I’ve been involved with, as far as getting them to see both sides,” she said.