In light of legal research and amid public backlash, the Board of Commissioners abandoned a two-week-old decision.
The turmoil of the past two weeks surrounding the Newton County Board of Commissioners vote to remove Commissioner J.C. Henderson from all boards of fiduciary responsibility, including the Recreation Board and Nelson Heights Community Center, came to a close Tuesday evening.
Minutes from the Sept. 2 meeting were approved, but with everything regarding the motion Commissioner Nancy Shulz made concerning Henderson and the sanctions attached to his receiving a $4,500 payroll on Aug. 15 advance struck from the record and deemed null and void.
“When this matter came up two weeks ago with respect to the sanctions to Mr. Henderson, after the board voted, he turned to me and said, ‘Can they do this?’ And I said yes, I believe they have the power,” said County Attorney Tommy Craig.
Historically, he said, members of the Recreation Board have been appointed by commissioners. District commissioners would make recommendations to appoint someone in their district.
“But the reality is that is not the way state law works,” Craig said.
He said the decision to take somebody off the Recreation Board would have to be the chairman, and the power to appoint is also the power to remove, “as the law expressly abides.”
As for the Nelson Heights Community Center, Craig said the board members must be representing the district in which the center is located, “so if the board is going to undo that it would require negotiations with the board, a revision or a rescission of this resolution because he is actually under the board’s own ordinance as a member of the board. You can’t take him off without revising the resolution, and if you do take him off, the board can put him back on.”
“I suppose you can change the locks, but if you do, you have to give the board the keys, which puts us right back where we are now,” Craig said.
And concerning the SPOLST IV improvements, Craig said, “I’m not saying the board can’t stop all those projects, pool the money (Henderson listed) and do something different.
“Most of what you did was illegal, and the rest of what you did was inadvisable.”
Commissioner John Douglas motioned for the approval of the minutes with the striking of Shulz’s previous motion to place sanctions on Henderson, with Commissioner Levie Maddox notching the second vote.
“I believe we acted in haste,” Maddox said. “This community appreciates Commissioner Henderson and approves of his leadership. Everybody deserves his fair share, and I’m not sure he got his last meeting. Our board needs to focus on doing good things for the community.
Shulz voted against the change to the minutes, saying “we cannot rewrite history, as the events of September 2 actually occurred.
“The unfortunate events of the loan has brought outrage to the taxpayers, public mistrust and, understandably, many questions. … We are not a lending institution.”
Henderson had a simple question: did he break a law?
Craig said he thought there was a problem with the gratuities clause of the constitution, which was a small technical violation. “But it’s been done over the years, and it’s been done as a part of a payroll assistance program. If there was a violation of the law, I suggest it’s small and may not warrant having a lot of attention paid to it. But I believe Commissioner Maddox made the motion to have no more employee payroll assistance programs until the board approves a written policy.”
The issue, he said, was not “what was legal or advisable. I think everyone wishes it didn’t happen. The question is if the sanctions were legal and appropriate.”
The 2-1 vote, with Henderson abstaining and Commissioner Lanier Sims absent, retains Henderson’s place on the Recreation Board and the Nelson Heights Community Center board and negates the sanctions brought on him in the first place.
After asking the board if there were any motions to amend or negate the sanctions placed on his job duties regarding “fleet management and engineering departments”, Commission Chairman Keith Ellis received no such motions, keeping and solidifying the stripping of his powers in place.