Ex-Clayton manager subject of controversial firing hired as consultant

A veteran of Clayton County government official who ran unsuccessfully for the commission chairman’s seat in the May primary was hired Tuesday as a $3,000-a-month consultant to the county, over the objection of the incumbent who defeated him.

Wade Starr, who finished second in the three-way primary race won by incumbent Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, will now advise the county on economic development and community development matters as well as work with the Clayton legislative delegation on state and local matters. Starr will report directly to the five commissioners.

Turner, who was instrumental in firing Starr as county manager when he assumed the chairmanship in 2013, viewed the commission's 3-2 vote as an effort to undermine his leadership. Introduced as an emergency agenda item at Tuesday's commission meeting, the measure caught Turner and commissioner Shana Rooks off guard. Both learned about the deal just as Tuesday's meeting convened.

One political observer said Tuesday’s action “does not bode well” for Turner’s new term.

“I suspect there is something deeper here. Perhaps some longtime conflict or jealousy that separates Turner from most of his commission colleagues because this does look like a clear rebuke to Turner,” said Charles S. Bullock III, Richard Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia. “Although Turner has the support of the public — the voters, he lacks the support of a majority of the commission.”

The commissioners who voted to hire Starr — Michael Edmondson, Sonna Gregory and Gail Hambrick — did not return calls or respond to emails seeking information about the matter. Rooks, an attorney, was in court Wednesday and unable to respond, her constituent aide said. Rooks voted against hiring Starr.

“If they wanted this measure, why weren’t we consulted?” Turner said Wednesday. “They had been working on this a couple of weeks which would have given them ample time to get our input on it.

“It’s very much ambush politics,” Turner added. “This is truly a slap in my face because he ran against me and I beat him handily and now they’re going to turn around and bring him back to consult on Clayton County issues and pay him $3,000 a month to do so.”

Starr said Wednesday he was approached by Edmondson two weeks ago with the consultancy offer. He said Edmondson wanted to see “if I was open to helping out in the areas of community and economic development as well as working with the legislative delegation around local and state issues and I agreed to do so.”

He said the consulting work will not interfere with his duties as executive director of the Housing Authority of Clayton, a job he got shortly after being let go as county manager in January 2013.

The consulting work along with the housing authority job will put Starr’s annual compensation at more than $100,000 a year. Turner earns about $140,000 a year as commission chair.

Starr was ousted as county manager and the position abolished as a part of the Turner administration’s efforts to overhaul county government. As part of the Turner administration’s government reform, two two new jobs - chief operating officer and chief financial officer - were created.

Edmondson was one of three people at the time who voted to remove Starr as county manager. He aligned with Turner and Rooks in that decision. On Tuesday, Edmondson aligned with Hambrick and Gregory to hire Starr as a consultant.

In addition to serving as county manager, Starr has held a series of county jobs during the last two decades, including director of policy and planning, administrative assistant to former Clayton Chairman Crandle Bray and head of fleet maintenance.

Turner said he was disappointed with the way the process was handled and presented as a emergency.

“I asked for time since this was the first time we had had an opportunity to look at it,” he said. “We add things at the last minute if it’s an emergency. I asked what the emergency was and Edmondson said this measure would keep us from losing money and because we could benefit from his expertise.”

Last September, the county hired economics director Courtney Pogue who is working to bringing more jobs and businesses to Clayton.

“To me, what they’re asking him to do is duplication. We already have the records, people and companies to do the things that we’re asking him to do,” Turner said. “It has an impact on the directors and departments’ abilities to do their jobs.”