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UPDATED: Newton board rejects longtime attorney's bid to lead new department
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Board of Commissioners will reopen the application process for the job leading a new county law department after voting to reject a counter-offer from the attorney who has represented Newton on a contract basis for six years.

Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday, Oct. 5, to reject Megan Martin’s request for a $195,000 salary, electric car and other items that District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said totaled $255,000 annually.

Some commissioners expressed frustrations with Martin’s former law firm and Martin herself before voting to reject her counter-offer to them to lead a new legal department to replace the Jarrard & Davis law firm it has employed since 2015.

Sanders criticized Martin for not discussing a cease and desist order with her concerning the potential liability from Sanders’ leadership of a fitness class earlier this year.

Chairman Marcello Banes sent the letter to Sanders, but she said Martin never discussed it being a potential liability with her before the information was released to the media.

Sanders then alleged Martin did not equally represent all commissioners, and was not capable of being county attorney without the backing of the Cumming-based Jarrard & Davis law firm.

Martin has served as the government-focused law firm’s lead attorney for Newton County since 2016 but recently left the firm. 

Sanders, who is Black, also said it was “not about color” but “capability and fairness” — a reference to most other applicants for the position being Black.

“It has nothing to do with Black or white,” Sanders said.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he did not like the fact Jarrard & Davis and Martin sent to the District Attorney’s office the results of a 2016 forensic audit.

He said he was “falsely accused” of alleged financial mismanagement connected to his involvement with Nelson Heights Community Center that was alleged in the audit by David Sawyer of Frazier and Deeter CPAs. 

Sawyer also sent copies to the FBI — which earlier this year returned documents related to the investigation. Martin said at the time she did not believe the FBI planned to file any charges without the documents.

Henderson said the Board needed “attorneys who are going to stand up for what’s right” in defending commissioners against legal challenges. 

“We do not have that right now,” he said.

The Board of Commissioners hired Jarrard & Davis in 2015 after ending a decades-long contract with Covington attorney Tommy Craig amid financial questions regarding the Bear Creek Reservoir project which ultimately was abandoned after more than a decade of development.

During the Tuesday meeting, Henderson motioned to approve Martin’s hiring but wanted to include the rehiring of Craig to assist her in a number of areas — including finding a way to distribute more than $10 million in funds from the federal government to those harmed by losses related to COVID-19.

County officials have said they advised against releasing the funds until the federal government gives final guidelines for their distribution. 

District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said he saw “merit” in what Henderson was proposing to assist Martin. 

Craig was the county attorney for almost 40 years and the sheriff’s office and tax commissioner continue to employ him. 

However, Cowan said he believed the Board should only accept or reject the counter-offer Tuesday night without adding a provision for assistance from Craig.

“I think we have one issue in front of us,” Cowan said. “I don’t think this is the right time.”

Cowan then made a substitute motion to solely accept the counter-offer. 

However, the Board voted 3-2 against Cowan’s motion to accept Martin’s offer for hiring. Sanders, Henderson and District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason voted to reject the counter-offer.

The action allows the Board to again advertise the open position while keeping Jarrard & Davis on contract..

Martin’s work had included guiding the Newton County government through legal challenges to the county’s opposition to a private landfill, the termination of a former recreation director, and its plan to remove a Confederate monument from Covington Square.

However, the Board chose to create an in-house legal department in late 2020 in an effort to lower legal costs. 

Commissioners voted to offer the department head position to Martin Aug. 24 after interviewing her and former Atlanta assistant city attorney Serena Nowell.