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County attorney faces citizen's ire
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Dear Editor,

$823,822.15. Re-read that figure and let it sink in. It’s important because that number is the amount of money we Newton County taxpayers spent on the legal services of County Attorney Tommy Craig last year. From Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, 2013, Newton County paid over three-quarters of a million dollars to WM Tommy Craig LLC. When I filed my Open Records Request (O.R.R.) with County Clerk Jackie Smith earlier this month, I never imagined that in one calendar year we could have spent $823,822.15 on legal services. The number makes me angry, but not as angry as the return on my investment or should I say lack thereof.

After the new assistant county manager position was created behind closed doors on Jan. 21, I wanted to watch the Board of Commissioners to ensure they didn’t violate any more laws. Please bear with me as I go over some oh-so-important-but-not-so-exciting Georgia Code here. O.C.G.A. 50-14-4 (a) states, "Where a meeting of an agency is devoted in part to matters within the exceptions provided by law, any portion of the meeting not subject to any such exception, privilege, or confidentiality shall be open to the public." Despite the fact that a Board member stated they were going into the Jan. 21 executive session for non-permissible "succession planning," the County Attorney claims they used the acceptable exceptions of "personnel" and "potential litigation."

Here’s where it gets even hairier. Section (b)(1) of that same code requires that the BOC provide a notarized affidavit that states, in essence, none of the contents discussed in executive session were outside the realm of exceptions. A separate O.R.R, filed by my neighbor Dennis Taylor, shows that Commissioner Nancy Schulz refused to sign the notorized affadavit for the executive session Jan. 21. Schulz, who happens to hold the privilege of being my district commissioner, has maintained that the process should have been open and stated so throughout the session.

As evidenced by the Feb. 8th comments he made to Gabriel Khouli of The Covington News, County Attorney Tommy Craig didn’t believe they had done anything wrong. "If the primary focus, the primary reason for the executive session is to discuss matters that are clearly exempt from the open meetings requirement, then the fact that you have some tangential discussions about something, which if viewed in isolation would be a topic that would have to be in opens session, then it’s just not practical to run back and forth across the hall, having some discussions in open and some discussion closed," Craig said.

The problem with that mindset Mr. Craig, aside from the fact that we’re paying you $823,822.15 to think it, is that the final section of O.C.G.A. 50-14-4 (b)(2) states the following: "In the event that one or more persons (that would be Comm. Nancy Schulz in this case) initiates a discussion that is not authorized pursuant to Code Section 50-14-3, the presiding officer (that would be Chairman Keith Ellis) shall immediately rule the discussion out of order and all present shall cease the questioned conversation." It goes on to say, in essence, that when Nancy Schulz continued that conversation, Chairman Keith Ellis should have immediately adjourned the session. As you still maintain no laws have been broken, or if they were it was only for reasons of impracticality, I question paying your exorbitant salary. It just doesn’t seem practical to me.

Jessica Pierson