JONESBORO — A request to make a small structure change to increase the efficiency of District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson’s office died Tuesday without a vote from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.
Lawson had requested permission to eliminate a vacant investigator II position and replace it with an assistant district attorney position. It’s part of a shake-up Lawson has begun to roll out in the way her office prosecutes cases in an attempt to move them through the legal system more quickly.
Chairman Jeff Turner made a motion to approve the request, but no commissioner would offer a second to move it forward. Under parliamentary rules, no item can be voted on by commissioners without a motion being made and seconded.
Without a second, the item dies on the floor.
“Just having a law enforcement background, she stated the need and I could see that was a valid request and that’s the reason why I made the motion, and I’m definitely disappointed it didn’t pass,” said Turner, the county’s former police chief, afterward. “Actually, it surprised me.”
The situation was a stinging blow to Lawson, who has had a rough month in the aftermath of a jury’s acquittal of Sheriff Victor Hill. Although Lawson recused her office, and the case was indicted and prosecuted by a special prosecutor, Lawson has been the target of a backlash since the acquittal.
One woman called for Lawson’s resignation at a commission meeting last month and an unknown person, or group of people, have placed recall signs around the county.
But, commission Vice-Chairman Michael Edmondson said what happened Tuesday was just a “snafu.” The item will likely come back to the commission in October for reconsideration.
Human Resources Director Renee Bright presented the position change to commissioners, during a pre-meeting session, as a request that would help the District Attorney’s office be more efficient.
“This is the result of an efficiency study that included a recommendation for this change to expedite case movement from arrest through closure,” said Bright.
Lawson said before the business meeting that the study was conducted at her request by retired Gen. Steve Stephens, former Clayton State University vice president for external relations and executive assistant to university President Tim Hynes.
The goal, she said, was have investigators focus more time on investigating cases by having assistant district attorneys prepare indictments and witness lists for the grand jury. Until now, the investigators have gathered evidence, drafted the indictments and selected witnesses to appear before the grand jury.
“I’m transferring it now so that the ADAs draft the indictments because they’re the lawyers and they say what witnesses they need and the investigators are going to do more traditional investigative activities,” said Lawson. “So I need three lawyers per courtroom because they are going to take on more of a burden, but I tried to get three ADAs and they [commissioners] wouldn’t give me any.”
So Lawson did the political equivalent of a drop back and punt by trying a different approach to address the situation. Although she needs three more assistant district attorneys, only one of those spots was to be created by eliminating an investigator position.
“Then, I’m making two deputy chiefs go back to the courtroom,” said Lawson.
There is a $2,563 difference in the base salaries for the positions. County documents show an investigator II position carries a $50,330 salary, while an assistant district attorney is paid $52,893. However, when pension and benefits are included, the investigator makes $67,056 while the assistant district attorney earns $70,152, according to a copy of the county’s salary matrix.
That is a difference of $3,096. Bright said Lawson would have initially held off on filling the proposed new assistant district attorney position in an effort to “recoup” the difference in funding and make it budget neutral.
When the request died, Lawson immediately got up from her seat in the audience, shook her head and let out a heavy and loud sigh as she walked out.