Clayton County leaders shrink commission chairman’s powers

Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner

Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner

Clayton County commissioners have snatched away some of their chairman’s duties, including the power of the purse.

In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the board approved an ordinance that directs Clayton’s Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford to report to the full board and not just the chairman. It also gave the COO more authority over spending without the need for the chairman’s approval.

“I would really love to know how this benefits the citizens of Clayton County but I know I wouldn’t get a response or answer on it, so I will move on,” Turner said before calling for the vote on the measure to strip him of some of his responsibilities.

The commission also approved a resolution to conduct an audit of payments the county allegedly made to Vanderbilt University in Nashville on behalf of former Clayton Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins. The resolution did not say why the payments were being questioned.

The commission, in a 3-2 vote, fired Bivins earlier this month but did not give a reason for her termination.

“There was no communication at all with me in reference to that,” Turner said of the plan to reduce his duties. “There was no communication at all with Ramona Bivins before they ... told her that her contract was null and void. The manner in which they did it was insulting.”

The commissioners who voted to strip Turner of some of his duties and to terminate Bivins — Alieka Anderson, Felicia Franklin and Gail Hambrick — did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

Hours after the audit was approved Tuesday, a social media manager for suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill pondered on the lawman’s Twitter account if the investigation into the Vanderbilt spending could discover misuse of county funds by Turner.

“It will be interesting to see what else this investigation reveals about Chairman Turner’s use of taxpayers’ money,” Carl Johnson wrote on Hill’s Twitter page.

Turner said he is not part of the investigation and that Bivins’ contract with the county included money for her continuing education. The AJC has requested a copy of Bivins’ contract and other info pertaining to the investigation.

There has been bad blood between Hill and Turner as far back as 2008, when Hill was running for a second term as sheriff. One of Hill’s goals was to fold the Clayton County Police Department, where Turner served as chief at the time, into the sheriff’s office with Hill as the leader.

Hill, who was ultimately defeated in that election by former Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, referred to himself as “your future employer” in e-mails to Turner, according to media reports.

Hill, who won election as sheriff for a fourth term in 2020, was indicted in April 2021 on federal charges he violated the civil rights of seven detainees in the Clayton jail by putting them into restraint chairs as punishment. Hill has denied the allegations. His trial is set to begin in October.