Photo by Curt Yeomans
County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell is blasting allegations that he is party to an alleged plan to de-annex the Lake Spivey community from Clayton County and add it to Henry County. The Commission voted unanimously to hire an outside attorney to investigate the alleged plan.
JONESBORO — The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to hire an attorney to investigate an alleged secret plan to de-annex one of the county’s wealthier neighborhoods to Henry County. Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell calls the episode a fictional “ploy” to hurt his re-election chances.
An outside attorney will look into allegations that Bell was a party to the alleged plans for the Lake Spivey community located just east of Jonesboro to secede from Clayton County and join its neighbor. The neighborhood is named for the lake that many of the community’s houses and the golf course were built near and is partially in Henry County.
The community stretches westward from the county line to Walt Stephens Road near Jonesboro.
Commissioner Sonna Singleton said the county’s tax digest would be hurt by moving some of Clayton’s highest-valued homes to Henry County.
“There is sufficient reason to believe there is a plan for the relocation of the boundary line between Clayton County and Henry County that would move some or all of the Lake Spivey Community from Clayton County to Henry County,” Singleton said after the Commission came out of a closed session at the end of its meeting.
“This plan, if brought to fruition, would cause harm to Clayton County by the removal from the tax digest of residential and possibly commercial property of significant value,” she said. “I move that this commission direct the county attorney to locate and employ counsel to investigate this plan and to report back to this Commission the findings of the investigation.”
After the Commission meeting, an irate Bell questioned the spending of taxpayer funds to conduct an investigation into the alleged plan, which he brands “a hoax” and denies exists. He would oppose such a plan if it did exist, he said.
If the county line were re-drawn, Bell would lose his elected office because he lives in the Lake Spivey area.
“It’s nothing more than a political ploy,” said Bell. “Even Ray Charles can see that, and he’s blind and dead. Now they want to spend county money to hire an attorney. What is he going to find out? Nothing!”
The source of the copied e-mail — a letter, with the name “Anthony Foster” from a College Park, on the return address — cannot be verified.
In the letter, signed simply “Anthony,” the writer said Bell hired him to work on social media for his re-election campaign. The letter includes a copy of an e-mail, purported to have been sent by Landmark Communications CEO Mark Rountree to Bell, and was mailed to several individuals — including a Clayton News Daily reporter and County Manager Wade Starr — in the last week.
The letter writer said the copied e-mail was retrieved from Bell’s campaign e-mail account.
Bell said he’s never heard of Foster, and never hired him to work on his campaign. The Phoenix Boulevard address that letter-writer provided is an extended-stay hotel, which said no “Anthony Foster” was or had been a guest there.
Commissioner Michael Edmondson said it came to the Commission’s attention after Clayton County NAACP President Synamon Baldwin said “she was in possession of an e-mail that she got from Chairman Bell’s computer, talking about the moving of the county lines around the Lake Spivey area.”
The copy of the e-mail that was sent to the Clayton News Daily is vague. While it alludes to a plan to move the county line, a plan to move the lines just around the Lake Spivey community is never explicitly mentioned.
Bell said the e-mail was a fake, however, and pointed to the spelling of Rountree’s name in the “From” line on the e-mail as his proof. The last name in the e-mail is spelled “Roundtree.”
A search of Landmark Communications’ website and a Google search of numerous media reports from recent years show there is no “D” in his last name.
“You’re telling me the man doesn’t know how to spell his own name?” said Bell. “Anybody who would look at it could tell it’s a hoax.”
The e-mail alludes to someone named “Michael” being willing to vote for the plan, but Edmondson, who is the only “Michael” on the Commission, said he is not aware of any plans to move the county line. Edmondson’s district includes the Lake Spivey area.
“I can tell you as the district commissioner and as a founding member of Greater Lake Spivey Inc., I have no knowledge of any conversations or any efforts whatsoever, formally or informally, by anybody to do that,” said Edmondson.
Edmondson also pointed to Official Code of Georgia Annotated sections 36-3-1 through 36-3-5, which explains that the commission alone can’t approve such a move. It must be approved by the courts as well.
The code sections outline that the process must begin with residents filing a petition in the probate courts for both counties. The probate judges must then take the petitions to a Superior Court grand jury for their respective counties. The juries would review the petitions and two-thirds of each grand jury must vote in favor of moving the boundary.
The commissions in each county then would vote on the matter.
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis said her county, which is currently facing the prospect of raising taxes to pay for existing county services, has not had discussions with Clayton County officials about re-drawing the county lines around Lake Spivey.
“Quite honestly, we’re not interested in it,” said Mathis. “There’s been no discussions. We have a county that is already large enough that we’re trying to provide services to. We’re certainly not going to look outside the county to find other areas to bring in and provide additional services to.”