To the editor:
County documents recently acquired by an open records request by another concerned citizen and provided to this writer show Sheriff Ezell Brown and Attorney Tommy Craig continue to take advantage of Newton County taxpayers.
That may come as a surprise to those who recall Mr. Craig was fired by the Board of Commissioners in November 2015, almost three years ago. So, what is going on now? Well, the Sheriff has continued to use Mr. Craig for legal services despite that all other county departments and elected officials now use Ms. Megan Martin or other attorneys with the firm of Jarrard & Davis which specializes in government law. Jarrard & Davis charge the county $175 per hour but Craig charges the Sheriff $221 per hour.
The Sheriff’s continued use of Mr. Craig has been expensive for taxpayers. Invoices for Fiscal year 2018 (July 2017-June 2010) show that Sheriff Brown paid Mr. Craig $306,506 to provide legal counsel to the Sheriff and Jail Departments. That is more than 10 times what the Sheriff paid Craig in FY 2014 ($28,937) and FY 2015 ($23,841) when he was representing the Sheriff along with all other departments. Mr. Craig apparently turned to the Sheriff for a job after he lost the lucrative county attorney position where he sometimes charged $1 million per year. Sheriff Brown obliged by employing him for many more hours each month than before. No plausible explanation has been provided by the Sheriff for this enormous increase. In fact, the Sheriff seems to get insulted when asked about any of his expenses.
The Sheriff has paid Mr. Craig more and more each year since he hired him. In the transition year of FY 2016, Mr. Craig was paid $88,078, in FY 2017, $280,092 and $306,506 in FY 2018. The Sheriff’s legal budget for FY 2019 is $370,000 so we can expect another increase this year.
A comparison of Mr. Craig’s monthly invoices to the Sheriff from before and after he was fired by the BOC shows an immediate and dramatic increase. This was no coincidence. Prior to being employed solely by the Sheriff, Mr. Craig’s charges for the Sheriff and Jail Departments averaged around $2,500 per month. After he began working only for the Sheriff, his invoices increased immediately and have averaged $23,000 per month. One month he billed over $40,000! What in the world would cause the Sheriff’s legal costs to jump so much at the same time he hired Mr. Craig?
Just about everyone in Newton County supports our front line law enforcement officers and wants strong public safety efforts by the Sheriff’s office and city police departments. And, most are willing to pay for that. But, we deserve to have our tax money used wisely and not wasted on unnecessary payments to an attorney that the county fired three years ago. Let’s be sure that Sheriff Brown gets that message.