Photo by Curt Yeomans
Joseph Brown, a member of the Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee, talks during a Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday about the need for citizens to pay better attention to the county's government.
JONESBORO — Nearly two dozen Clayton County residents have formed a nonpartisan government watchdog group because they said they are tired of the way the county commission spends tax dollars.
The Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee was formed in the lobby of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Building Tuesday night before a commission meeting.
The watchdog group’s formation comes on the heels of accusations from Clayton County Republican Party President Carl Swensson that county leaders are sitting on $208.3 million in unspent SPLOST funds collected since 2004.
Swensson introduced the committee to the commission during a public comment period at the meeting.
“We have been formed for the purpose of reviewing and investigating actions taken by the Board of Commissioners that may violate the law, their oath of office [and] moral conduct unbecoming of elected representatives,” said Swensson. “We, as members of the CCCOC, take our civic duties seriously and will never again allow commission members to use our tax dollars other for than which they were intended.”
The actions of several commissioners have come under the scrutiny from the Clayton County District Attorney’s office as part of an ongoing investigation into corruption. Investigators from the DA’s office raided the county finance office and archives in April.
Swensson told commissioners the watchdog group would turn over any evidence of government corruption it finds to District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson and Sheriff Kem Kimbrough.
“We believe a well-run county is the key to our success and the results of not having such an oversight committee are plainly evident in the ever-dwindling stature of Clayton County,” said Swensson.
Commissioners sat quietly and showed little reaction when one member of the oversight committee after another spoke about their plans to watch county leaders with more scrutiny. They did not say anything in response to the announcement of the group’s formation either.
Jonesboro resident David Clark said the group will search documents such as the annual comprehensive financial reports to find areas that need to be investigated. They also will solicit information from any would-be whistle-blowers in the county.
“We will accept all leads provided by current and former employees of this county and will, to the best of our ability, investigate them,” said Clark.
Members also want to make sure the commission is transparent with citizens by providing documents for public inspection and by holding commissioners’ feet to the fire if they violate Georgia’s sunshine laws governing open meetings.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office last summer investigated allegations that three commissioners met behind closed doors to discuss the county’s budget. Investigators could not find conclusive evidence to show such a meeting took place, however, and the commissioners were cleared of any alleged wrongdoing.
Joseph Brown was the last member of the group to address the commission. He said the citizens shared part of the blame for the reputation the county has earned from other areas of metro Atlanta.
“Part of the reason the county isn’t doing as well as it could is because we haven’t been involved as citizens, paying attention and getting involved,” said Brown.