Citizens form Clayton watchdog group

The Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee describes itself as a non-partisan group, although its chairman is the head of the county Republican party. Members of the group put the county commission and other officials on notice at Tuesday's board meeting, where the group of about two dozen longtime citizens formed shortly before the session started.

The group plans to monitor the use of county funds, policies and other county government business.

Commission chairman Eldrin Bell said he welcomed the group's vigilance but took issue with some of its views.

Carl Swensson, the county's Republic party chief who is the new group's chairman, said members of the group got tired of being rebuffed by some Clayton officials when they asked for information. The group will rely heavily on Georgia's sunshine laws and open records requests.

"They insulate themselves from us," said Swensson, who lives in Morrow and has already begun gathering county data."We want to get more accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility from county officials."

Bell defended his commission's performance.

"It's an unfair indictment," Bell said. "We're trained to be professional in the job. I come with 43 years of prior experience. I'm not going to pass judgment on them."

Swensson hopes the group's efforts help other communities take similar stands.

"We're trying to lay the groundwork for people in other counties to be able to do the same thing,' Swensson said. "We want to give them the ideas they need to pursue oversight in their counties. We can no longer allow the election process to be the beginning and end of our involvement."

This isn't the first time Clayton residents have banned together to deal with perceived government misdeeds. Morrow residents formed a similar group to determine what led to the demise of the Olde Towne Morrow retail village, which cost millions to build and never fully opened.

The group's quest and the city's probe eventually led to a former city councilman being indicted for circumventing state building codes and other charges.