New Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner listens as Commissioner Gail Hambrick asks a question at their first meeting of the year Wednesday night. Turner made his presence felt immediately when County Manager Wade Starr was fired in the first step toward a shake-up of the county government's structure.
ATLANTA A cloud was lifted from over Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner’s head Tuesday.
The State Elections Board dismissed a complaint alleging Turner did not live in the county and was ineligible to hold his seat because of discrepancies in divorce and bankruptcy filings. The dismissal came after the chief investigator from the Secretary of State’s told the board he could find no evidence that Turner did not meet the one-year residency requirement to run for chairman.
Investigator Chris Harvey said the investigation found that Turner, the county’s former police chief, signed a rental agreement to live in Clayton County in December 2010 and then registered to vote in the county in April 2011.
“Both of those established his residency in Clayton County and it appears that there was no residency issue and no false information put on his candidacy application,” said Harvey.
Turner said he was hopeful that the state’s investigation into his residency puts the issue to rest. The Clayton County NAACP asked for the investigation after news surfaced that there were inconsistencies with Turner’s residency in various court filings which indicated he may have still lived in Henry County.
By that time, Turner had already taken office and begun to change the county’s form of government from a strong-manager format to a strong-chairman structure.
“I happy that it’s over and it’s behind us,” Turner said. “I hope that the decision of the Secretary of State’s Office satisfies [Clayton County NAACP President Synamon Baldwin] and the local NAACP. I am hopeful they will be respectful of the state board’s decision.”
In a statement, Baldwin thanked the Secretary of State’s office for looking into the issue.
“Although we disagree with the findings based on the apparent irregularities in the filings of the chairman, we respect the decision of the Georgia State Elections Board,” Baldwin said.
Had the State Elections Board ruled against Turner, it could have thrown the commission into chaos because several split 3-2 decisions would have been invalidated. That would have included firing former County Manager Wade Starr and eliminating his position, as well as creating chief operations officer and chief financial officer positions.
Turner said there were some members of the commission who had doubts about his residency, but he declined to name them.
The chairman said he had no doubt the board would side with him, however.
“I was confident,” Turner said. “I left it in God’s hands and I was confident it was going to have this same outcome, and I’m very appreciative of the work the investigator did on this case.”
Harvey told the elections board that Turner was interviewed during the investigation and explained that Turner retained his Henry County address on some of his court cases to maintain some continuity in where court documents were sent.
Commissioner Shana Rooks was the only member of the body who came to see the outcome of the hearing. She said she was also there to support Turner and said she was confident beforehand that the case would be dismissed.
“If you recall, Chairman Turner [originally] moved to the county to announce he was running for sheriff and that required 24 months, so it was never a concern for me because he had been here just shy of the requirements to run for sheriff,” Rooks said. “It was a no-brainer that he would have been in Clayton County for 12 months.”