JONESBORO Is Wade Starr the county manager or not?
That is the question some are asking, after rumors about Starr’s employment contract not being signed by Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell began to swirl in recent weeks. The two-year contract is dated Sept. 7, 2011, and it states Starr will be paid $150,000 per year to serve as the county manager.
The rumors about Bell not signing the contract are true, but the line for the county clerk’s signature is also blank. The contract does not have a notary seal on it either.
It only contains Starr’s signature and what that means for Clayton County has some county officials scratching their heads.
“I really don’t know, but It does raise questions,” said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.
State law does not address this type of situation, which leaves it wide open to interpretation, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s office. Therefore, Bell’s refusal to sign the contract opens the door for a judge to take on the task of deciding its validity — if someone were to challenge it in court.
Even Starr’s critics don’t know what to make of the situation.
“It would indicate to me that it’s quite possibly null and void, but without seeing it for myself, I really don’t know,” said Carl Swensson, the head of civic watchdog group, the Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee.
Interim County Attorney Jack Hancock said he’s confident the contract is legal and valid, however, because it was approved by a majority of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.
“If you look at the agreement, the approval by the Board of Commissioners constitutes an acceptance of the contract under general municipal law,” said Hancock. “To do otherwise would be allowing a pocket veto which is a power, under our form of government, the chairman is not allowed to have.”
The hiring of Starr, a former state representative, was controversial when it happened. The position had not existed prior to his hiring, although former Clayton County fire Chief Alex Cohilas had served a controversial tenure in the similar county chief-of-staff position from 2008-2010.
Starr — who had been the administrative assistant to former Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray from 2001-2005 — beat out more than 30 other candidates for the position, including two other finalists from Atlanta and the Florida Keys.
Some people argued the county commission created the position just to give it to Starr, who was the county’s fleet maintenance director at the time.
Others argued the county government should not have a single, un-elected administrator to whom all county department heads answered when they had traditionally answered to the commission chairman.
Bell voted against the creation of the county manager position and Starr’s appointment. He freely admits he intentionally did not sign the contract in protest over the position’s existence.
The chairman said he did not refuse to sign it just to create a situation where Starr’s employment could be called into question.
“I thought the process by which we changed the form of government was not proper because it was not voted on by the people,” said Bell. “Why would I sign a contract for a position I didn’t support in the first place?"