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Posted: October 27, 2012 9:46 p.m.

Sheriff’s debate: Grant writer's raise

At The Covington News' recent forum, candidates had an opportunity to ask their opponent one question and Republican sheriff's challenger Philip Bradford questioned Democratic incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown about a raise give to the Newton County Sheriff's Office grant writer.

"There is a lot of disgruntlement going on, a lot of talk going on about a recent raise that was given to one employee. All the deputies in the sheriff's office haven't had a raise in more than five years. And I'm just curious one employee gets a raise of $5 and 60-plus cents per hour, which comes up to almost $12,000 a year. I'm just curious how that happens," Bradford said.

In his response, Brown said the grant writer for the Newton County Sheriff's Office was originally hired under a contract with a pay grade lower than a grant writer and if she was able to write two successful grants in three months she would get a raise. Brown said she was unable to within three months, but brought in $300,000 grants during the course of the year and another $1 million the next year, at which point the grant writer began questioning the contract.

Brown said all personnel is handled by the county's payroll department and said the county had obligation to give her a raise, because if she was an outside contractor she would have gotten 16 percent of the money she raised. Brown also said the county did a pay scale comparison to other counties and cities.

Fact checking forum
The grant writer in question is Apryle (Brown) Jones, who was originally hired July 20, 2009 at a pay rate of $19.52/hour in the NCSO's office of professional standards administration service.

In an interview after the forum, Brown said he used the word "contract" broadly as Jones was hired the same as other employees.

Jones' initial job description included the functions of researching grant programs, writing grant applications, reviewing revenues and expenditures for grants projects, assisting with open records requests and assisting the office of professional standards with other projects.

Lt. Keith Crum is the head of the office of professional standards and is Jones supervisor. In an interview last week, Crum said he used to write and handle all grants and that Jones was hired to focus on grants and assist Crum with other duties.

In her three-month evaluation, Crum gave Jones a 5, the highest level, on her evaluation and gave her a 4 on her nine-month evaluation.

Since the county began cutting the budget during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the sheriff's office has not been able to give either merit or cost-of-living increases to deputies.

During Jones' tenure with the NCSO, she began taking on more and more writing and oversight of grants, including taking on some grant reporting and management duties that were previously handled by the counties' finance department, Crum said.

The NCSO received $382,243 in grants in 2009, $416,832 in 2010, $66,401 in 2011 and $947,604 in 2012.

The biggest grants received were two federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Hiring Grants of $303,020 in 2010 and $901,490 in 2012, which allowed the sheriff's office to hire or re-hire additional full-time officers.

Brown has consistently credited Jones for brining in these grants. He said the NCSO was one of only three sheriff's offices in Georgia to receive the grant in 2010 and the only one to receive the grant in 2012.

Jones also took over the administration of the SCAAP (State Criminal Alien Assistance Program) grant from an outside agency, which used to get a 22 percent cut of the grant money received.

Crum said the audits required for grants have been going more smoothly since Jones came on board.

Brown said Jones was hired with the understanding that if she performed well, she would eventually be promoted to grant writer. This understanding does not appear to have been written into the original hiring documentation.
On July 3, Jones was essentially promoted to the position of "grant writer/administrator" and her pay was raised to $22/hour.

Brown provided emails from July 5 that showed the county's human resources department was conducting an informal salary survey of other governments' grant writers.

Three estimates that Brown provided showed one unidentified county with a salary range of $36,000-$55,000, while the city of Morrow had a range of $50,000-$70,000 (required five to seven years of experience) and Bibb County had a range of $44,782-$85,619. For comparison, as of last summer, Covington's grant writer made $56,284.

On July 12, Jones salary was revised upward to $24.82/hour. Based on 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, Jones annual salary would be $51,625. (At her $19.52 hourly salary, she made $38,259.)

In response to an email from The News, Chairman Kathy Morgan said the board of commissioners never expressed any objection to the sheriff hiring a grant writer either before or after the hiring. She said her office is not involved in personnel matters and that the county attorney advises constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, on personnel issues.

Jones background
Prior to being hired by the NCSO, Jones worked for a year and half at the Washington Harris Group and National Guard Headquarters where she worked on medical issues for soldiers, including making travel and medical appointments and request discharge orders.

From May 2005 to March 2009, apparently in conjunction with other positions, she worked as a project manager for the Newton County Juvenile Court, where she worked with program development, grant management, training of volunteers and developing classes.

She has also worked as a social worker for the Department of Family and Children Services and Emory and as social worker trainer for Laurel Baye Healthcare.

She has a bachelor's degree in social work from Albany State University.

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