The political fall-out from the search for county administrator, which resulted in a formal complaint to the state attorney general’s office, brewed a letter battle between two commissioners and the outgoing county attorney, who is taking a swipe to defend himself against what he calls false allegations
In his letter to State Attorney General Sam Olens, commission vice chairman Robert Horgan pointed out that during the county administrator search, the committee made up of two commissioners and three commissioners-elect violated the state’s open meeting act when “they held two meetings, one on September 26, 2012 and one of September 27, 2012, for the purpose of interviewing and selecting a county administrator. Despite scheduling these interviews well in advance of their meeting, this committee did not notify the local newspaper of their meeting, did not prepare and post an agenda for their meeting and did not allow the public to participate in their meeting.
“Due to the pre-scheduled interviews, the committee had adequate time to post the meeting date and time on the county’s web site. It did not,” Horgan said. “The committee did not notify in written or oral notice at least 24 hours in advance to the legal organ or any other paper in our community that has general circulation. I have been informed that there was not a written agenda presented at the beginning of the meeting.”
Commissioner Steve Brown shot back at Horgan with a missive of his own, copying Olens and Dennis Dunn at the attorney general’s office, calling Horgan’s complaint a “last ditch effort to sling mud before the end of your term as commissioner.”
The bad-mouthing goes back to the process the selection committee used to narrow down candidates for the position.
The committee had narrowed down the search from a list of 30 to five top contenders and then on September 26 and 27 set up interviews with those five candidates. However, the committee, made up of county commissioners Steve Brown and Allan McCarty and commissioners-elect charles Oddo, Randy Ognio and David Barlow, did not advertise the executive session meetings in the Fayette County News, the county’s legal organ, within the prescribed 24-hour period prior to the meeting.
Brown said he posted the minutes in the window of the commission offices next to the posting board outside the commission offices, but didn’t know that he had to let the legal organ know.
“The incoming commissioners acted on what I told them,” he said. “So I take full responsibility for not knowing about the changes in the law.”
They also did not approach the county’s own attorney, Scott Bennett, to ask for the information. Brown said the committee didn’t feel that Bennett “could provide an unbiased opinion since he had interjected himself into the hiring process, unsolicited, making negative comments.”
Brown said he made attempts to call the state’s attorney general’s office and the legal counsel’s office at the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s office
“Unfortunately, neither were in the office at the start of the day,” he said. “The ACCG counsel did get back to me hours later and made me aware of the new advertising requirement.”
Brown received the call from legal counsel about two hours after that interview.
“I have openly admitted previously, I take full responsibility for not knowing the contents of the new state law pertaining to such matters and was not aware any changes had taken place in regards to hiring,” he said. “Thus, I misinformed the gentlemen in attendance at the meeting.”
Horgan said that the new open meetings changes were part of a large article each commissioner received in September. After re-reading the article, Horgan said he felt the need to file the complaint.
Brown charges that Horgan was present when “Commissioner [Lee] Hearn, at a board of commissioners meeting, personally handed his stack of resumes to Randy Ognio. You were present when both Commissioner Frady and Commissioner Hearn publicly said they wanted the 2013 board to make the selection for County Administrator.”
Horgan said that the three outgoing commissioners had invited the incoming ones to be part of the process as a courtesy but had assumed they would be privy to the information that was being discussed and they weren’t.
“What I could have told you, if you asked was that I instructed Lewis Patterson in Human Resources to contact the State Attorney General’s office days in advance of the interviews to clarify the procedures, but I later found out that our county administrator refused to let Lewis make the call,” he said. “You are well aware of my distrust of county attorney Scott Bennett, relating back to several significant occurrences which I believe to be either illegal or unethical.”
County administrator Jack Krakeel denies interfering in the process, saying that he told Patterson that it wasn’t his place to make the call to the Attorney General’s office and that odds were he wasn’t going to get an answer anyway.
“They are not going to answer to anyone except the county attorney,” he said.
Brown also said that Krakeel waited until the last minute, 5:15 p.m., before the scheduled meetings, to tell him something was wrong with the process.
“It reminds me of the people who lead the unsuspecting steer into the slaughterhouse to be eviscerated,” said Brown.
On the contrary, said Krakeel. It wasn’t the first time he’d brought that up before Brown. Other commissioners allege that Bennett had apprised Brown of the two-week requirement before the work began.
“Now you have accused me of an intential act to break the law. But would someone intending to break the law up calls into Jim Grubiak, General Counsel with ACCG and Dennis Dunn with Sate Attorney General’s office at 8 a.m. with urgent request for a return call? That certainly is not the behavior exhibited by someone ruthlessly attempting to violate the law, and, of course, you know that.”
Horgan, in turn, said Brown should have put off the interviews until he had received official word.