Sheriff’s use of Tommy Craig questioned
The board voted against approving the county’s financial report and check registry due to an invoice from the W. T. Craig Law Firm.
According to District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox, the county paid $93,000 to the former county attorney this fiscal year 2017. In contrast, the county’s current attorney Jarrard and Davis has been paid $194,000, of which $44,000 is paid directly to Frazier and Deeter CPAs and Advisors for a forensic audit, he said.
The BOC voted to use an in-house attorney in November, rather than the law firm of Tommy Craig. This summer, the board voted to hire Jarrard and Davis as its attorney.
However, under state law, constitutional officers are allowed to hire their own attorneys and set their own budget. According to Kerr, the use of Craig is from the county’s other elected officials, not the board.
“The reason the Newton County Sheriff’s Office continues to retain the services of Attorney Craig is because his office has 40 years of services working with law enforcement and jail services,” said Sheriff Ezell Brown in a statement. “You need someone with that level of experience, knowledge and expertise to address the type of issues we face on a daily basis. I feel the Sheriff’s Office is fortunate to have legal services with these capabilities at our disposal that provide a high level of work at reasonable prices. We have faced cases that have reached superior, federal and court of appeals that this legal team was able to utilize their skills so that the Newton County Sheriff’s Office was able to walk away without any or severe damages.”
Brown was asked why the invoices from Craig were very vague and did not list out what services the attorney was being paid for.
“In the office of the sheriff, we purposefully do that for many reasons,” Brown said to the board. “When we have an individual or an officer who are involved in lawsuits we purposefully code that so that you or the general public will not be able to call the particular officer and say that you’re in a lawsuit, [and use that for leverage].
The BOC’s vote against the financial report and check registry is a symbolic gesture, as the bills have already been paid.
Later in the week, Brown said in a statement that he would continue to utilize contractors independently for the best results for his office.
“As mentioned so eloquently by Commissioner [Levie] Maddox, as well as other members, this current board is dysfunctional and has often proven itself to be reckless,” Brown said. “History has shown the current Newton County Board of Commissioners does not have a reputable track record in making sound decisions for the County. But yet they have consistently tried to control the expenditures of the Office of the Sheriff budget which is beyond their jurisdiction.”
Tuesday was one instance of several that the board has questioned spending since the approval of the 2017 fiscal year budget. Newton County’s Finance Director, Nicole Cross, reported to the BOC that the county’s contingency fund is negative-$120,000.
“We are looking at areas we can experience cost saving to add to that negative contingency,” Cross said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS: NEW ADDITIONS TO COUNTY PARKS
During the Chairman’s report, Ellis announced two additions soon to be added to the Newton County park system.
One will be for man’s best friend at Chimney Park. Sandy’s Park — a dog park— will soon be added through a contribution from private citizens, efforts from the county’s public works department and fencing being reused from near the public defender’s office.
The other park will be behind the Newton County Administration Building, courtesy of the Covington Rotary Club. The Rotary Club utilized pavers left over from its Miracle Field project and paid for four benches surrounding the club’s Rotospoke log. The park will also have trees planted around it the county is utilizing from a department of transportation project.
LAND ORDINANCE CHANGES
Property owners in an area zoned agriculture residential in the county will be able to transfer a minimum of one acre to a family member without going through the zoning process, following a unanimous vote by the BOC Tuesday.
The property being transferred will not be required to have road frontage.
“This will make it easier for someone to transfer property who does not want to go through the zoning process,” Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr said.
Ellis, who said he has a piece of property that has been in his family since 1833, found the new ordinance useful.
“I intend to utilize this ordinance to allow my three children to have a lot on the property I still have,” he said.
CHANGES FOR LAKE-SIDE PROPERTY OWNERS
Homeowners along Jackson Lake will be able to place buildings in their front yards after changes to the 2009 zoning ordinance were amended by the BOC Tuesday.
The ordinance accommodates properties in which there is little room on the side yard, or in the back, between the home and waterfront for the addition of a building.
The ordinance change also allows for buildings, such as well houses or barns to be put on a property no smaller than five acres that does not have a structure, such as a home on it.
ROADS TO BE WORKED ON
District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox requested four roads from his district to be added to the 2011 SPLOST road list. The roads are Stephenson Road, White Laurel Lane, River Shoals Court and Autumn Leave Lane.