JONESBORO — An ordinance change designed to strip Chairman Jeff Turner of his power to call special meetings of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on his own failed Tuesday without receiving a second on the motion.
Commissioner Michael Edmondson authored the change, which was first read at the July 15 meeting — two weeks after Turner called an unscheduled meeting where the board voted 3-1 to place a binding referendum on the November ballot offering the county the chance to opt into MARTA with a 1 cent sales tax.
Edmondson voted against the referendum, feeling the county should have to pay no more than half a penny to opt into the authority. Two weeks later, he authored an ordinance that, if passed, would ensure Turner could not call meetings like that on his own.
The original ordinance states either the chairman or three board members can convene a special meeting. That means Turner could either call a meeting himself or with two other board members. The change Edmondson proposed would have stripped Turner of his ability to call special meetings himself — he would have been required to have two council members backing him up.
Turner had expressed concern that the proposed ordinance was meant to weaken the chairman position after its first reading. He voiced that concern once more in a statement before Tuesday’s vote.
“I am definitely opposed to this ordinance simply because it does usurp the authority of the chairman,” he said. “I believe in all we do, especially in government, we need to have checks and balances. And I think by doing this we are doing the citizens of this county an injustice by not having checks and balances.”
Two residents attending Tuesday’s meeting spoke out during the public comment section to say they felt the same. Jeffery Benoit, a former candidate in District 8 for the Clayton County Board of Education, said the chairman position is full-time and, therefore, should enjoy greater power than the part-time commissioner position.
He also pointed out that Edmondson had missed the public hearing and final vote for the millage rate July 22. Because he wasn’t there, the council voted 2-2 and the rate did not pass. The county applied for and was granted an extension from the state until Sept. 2.
“This is nothing more than a take-over and a demotion in (Turner’s) authority,” said Benoit. “We’ve seen this when we had a county manager — it goes back that far. Let’s not take Clayton County back to a time when we had a very, very dim look on Clayton County.”
Benoit was referring to 2011 when Wade Starr was appointed county manager and the county operated under a “strong manager” form of government. The board voted 3-2 in January 2013 to fire Wade and abolish his position weeks after Turner was elected chairman. The goal was to restructure the government to put the chairman back into power.
Commissioners Sonna Singleton Gregory and Gail Hambrick voted against the changes in 2013.
But nobody voted to diminish the chairman’s power Tuesday evening.
Turner gave Edmondson one more opportunity to change his proposed ordinance amendment before the vote, but Edmondson refused.
“I’d like to make a motion that we approve the ordinance change,” he said.
Turner’s call for a second was met with silence from the rest of the board.