FOREST PARK The Housing Authority of Clayton County met behind closed doors for two hours Thursday before deciding to put controversial former County Manager Wade Starr in position to become its interim leader.
The Housing Authority Board voted Thursday night to hire Starr as an “independent contractor” who will work alongside Executive Director Linda Valentine for the next six weeks. He will be paid a weekly salary of $1,000.
During that time, he will learn the authority’s operations and procedures from Valentine, who is preparing to retire after 19 years with the group. Thirteen of those years has been spent as executive director.
“If it’s the desire of the board, [this would] make an offer to Mr. Starr as an independent contractor to provide at least 30 hours per week in time devoted to the business of the Housing Authority,” said authority attorney Kirby Glaze as he explained the motion to the approve the move.
The hiring is the first step in letting Starr take over at the housing authority — at least one a temporary basis — after Valentine steps down this spring.
Glaze said the hiring of the former county administrator as an independent contractor was approved with the expectation that the board will name Starr as interim executive director after his six-week period ends.
“I can’t tell you how this is going to work because we don’t know yet,” Glaze said.
However, the hiring raises some questions.
The decision was made after the board met for approximately two hours in executive session, including more than hour with Starr.
“Basically, what the board was trying to hash out was what’s this process going to be and what do we do in the interim?” Glaze said. “You can’t shut down the Housing Authority while you go look for a new executive director. So, that was the primary purpose of the meeting tonight.”
But, that may not be allowed under Georgia’s Sunshine Law. The Georgia Open Meetings Act does not provide government bodies with an exemption that allows them to discuss governmental policies and processes behind closed doors.
There is also some vagueness behind Valentine’s decision to retire. At first, she said she was resigning before she corrected herself and said it was a retirement.
Valentine then said she chose to retire because “it’s just time to move on,” but she would not provide a specific date for when she decided to retire. She would only admit she made the decision “some months ago.”
The Housing Authority Board’s “first and primary concern is keeping the Housing Authority on track and moving it forward while they pursue the process of establishing what they are going to look for in an executive director,” said Glaze.
But, while those questions are being asked, the hiring does mark a political comeback of sorts for Starr, who at different points in his career served as a state representative and effectively ran Clayton County government.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners terminated Starr’s county manager contract and abolished the position in early January amid a shakeup of county government.
That freed him to pursue positions in other government bodies or agencies, and the Housing Authority Board saw it as an opportunity to snap him up.
Board Chairman Curtis Green said the board decided to hire Starr on an interim basis because “he was available.”
Green also said the authority also wanted a “seamless transition” from Valentine to Starr because they expect the process of searching for a permanent replacement will take a while.
“When we had an opportunity to bring over somebody with Mr. Starr’s experience, we figured it would be something that we would try to pursue,” Green said.