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Tommy Craig reappointed county attorney
Tommy Craig will serve a 39th year as county attorney amid some debate
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County Attorney Tommy Craig will serve another year in that position after the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to reappoint him at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Commissioners J.C. Henderson, John Douglas, Levie Maddox and Chairman Keith Ellis offered words of strong support for Craig, while Commissioner Nancy Schulz called for increased transparency and efficiency before ultimately granting Craig her vote. Commissioner Lanier Sims did not comment but also voted to reappoint Craig.

“I believe it is unacceptable to continue to do business as usual,” Schulz said, after unsuccessfully attempting to move the Citizens’ Comment portion to the front of the agenda. “We [the BOC] have created a culture that fosters high legal fees.”

A report distributed to the board on November 18 showed that since July 1, the start of the fiscal year, the county had already spent 73% of its legal fees budget.

Schulz asked that structural and procedural changes be made to the way legal services are contracted and accounted for, adding that “if we do not make structural changes…we will continue to have high legal fees” regardless of who is county attorney.

Specifically, she asked County Manager Tom Garret, who was also reappointed to his position Tuesday, to propose new protocols to allow the county to “live within our budget” at the commissioners’ retreat, scheduled for February 20-21.

Schulz also called for a new system of real time accounting in the quarterly litigation report to clearly organize the breakdown of legal fees. She said that the county’s new financial software should increase transparency.

Douglas praised Schulz’s recommendations while making clear his own unequivocal support for Craig. Douglas reminded the assembly of Craig’s 38 years of service to the county, adding that he recently won a suit brought by the state that saved the county from an increase in property taxes.

Craig’s reappointment was met by angry comments from some citizens who accused the board of failing to stand up to Craig.

In addition to Garret and Craig’s reappointments, County Clerk Jackie Smith was also unanimously and warmly reappointed to her position. Several commissioners offered personal testimonies on Smith’s behalf, including Sims, who characterized Smith as a cheerful presence who could “make a cloudy day sunny.”

Schulz also reappointed Robert Kitchens to the Planning Commission.

In other news, the board approved the Sherriff’s office acceptance of a FY14 Sex Offender Registry Notification Act SORNA Program grant that will allow them to buy two palm readers.

Commissioners also approved a grant agreement with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to build a $40,000 fishing pier and playground on Lake Varner.

Finally, the board moved to hold only one meeting in the months of July and December, respectively.