In a 3-2 vote, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners failed to renew its contract with Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins without giving any explanation for its action.
District 1 Commissioner Alieka Anderson, District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick, and District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin voted to terminate Bivins. District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis and Chairman Jeff Turner voted against the termination.
“Mr. Chairman, I move that we do not pass Resolution 2022-112,” Anderson said.
“We already got a motion, he [Davis] made a motion,” Turner replied.
“And I’m making one, too,” Anderson said.
“It doesn’t work like that,” Turner stated. “There’s a motion, I’ll second the motion, are there any questions? Alright, those in favor?”
Turner and David voted “Aye.”
“Those opposed?” Turner asked.
After several seconds, Franklin voted, “Nay.”
“Nay,” Anderson said.
Turner and Hambrick looked at each other.
“You said—?” Turner asked Hambrick.
“Nay,” she replied.
“Alright, the vote is 3-2. The contract is turned down. Failed,” Turner said.
Anderson asked City Attorney Chuck Reed, “Mr. Reed, can I make my motion now?”
“Yes,” Reed replied.
Anderson then apparently read a prepared motion containing legalistic language: “I move that we do not pass Resolution 2022-112 authorizing Clayton County to enter the employment agreement with Ms. Bivins at this time, and what I’m asking is, based on the authority of the board, the contract is ultra vires, that the previous purported agreement between Ms. Bivins and the county dated June 30, 2019 is also null and void, and at no effect because it is ultra vires also, and if its employment with Clayton County shall end effectively be terminated, and that Ms. Bivins be given until the close of business on Thursday, June 9 to remove all personal items from her office and personal items, um, again from her office, and turn over all county equipment. That’s my motion.”
An ultra vires contract means that the contract is “unauthorized” or “beyond the scope of power allowed or granted by a corporate charter or by law,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary.
“So moved,” Franklin said.
“What’s going on here?”
“Any questions?” Turner asked. “I have a question. Of course, I did not see this coming, especially having worked with Ms. Bivins on a regular basis, on a day-to-day basis, doing an excellent job representing this county and our Finance Department. I really think that it’s unfair to her. I know these actions take place, but just knowing her performance and her accessibility and her knowledge in this area, she is well-versed in financial matters and has represented this county with award-winning budget presentations for the last, I don’t know, nine or ten years that she’s worked here. So just my two cents’ worth is that it’s uncalled for, and wish that everyone on this board would reconsider their vote when we vote on this matter, based on what I just said.”
Davis said, “I’d like to just understand, where has she fallen down on the job?”
Regular attendee Mickey Garber called out from the audience, “What’s going on here?”
“Sir, please. Quiet,” Turner said. “No outbursts. Any, uh, any other comments?”
Davis asked for evidence to support the vote.
“I mean, if we can get that information, to find out if there’s been any written report of her falling down on the job or not doing her duties, I don’t know if there’s a record of that,” he said. “Is there?”
“No, but there is a record of her evaluation,” Turner replied, “which has been outstanding for the last several years, but.” He threw up his hands. “We have a motion on the floor. Are there any other questions?”
Once again, Warner, Anderson, and Hambrick voted aye, while Turner and Davis voted no.
“I also have a motion in reference to that,” Franklin said. She and Anderson appeared to consult briefly.
“Can we move on, Mr. Chairman?” Davis asked.
Anderson then read another prepared motion: “I also have another motion. I move that we make Mr. Dennis Johnson the interim CFO and that his starting date will be—that he will start fulfilling the duties of Ms. Bivins today, June 7, 2022.”
“Is this proper?” Turner asked Reed.
“Ummm, based on the previous vote, I would say yes,” Reed answered.
“Okay. Is there a second to that recommendation, to that motion, rather?”
Franklin said, “Second.”
That motion also passed 3-2.
Anderson then made a motion to name Johnson as interim CFO, effective immediately. That motion also passed 3-2.
The board later went into an executive session on personnel and litigation matters, then reconvened to take action on those matters, which were unrelated to Bivins’ dismissal. While Turner was still in the process of adjourning the meeting, Anderson, Franklin, and Hambrick quickly left the dais:
The Clayton Crescent has filed an Open Records Request with the county for Bivins’ personnel file, as well as for e-mails and call records among Anderson, Hambrick, Franklin, Hill, and Bickers. We also have asked Bivins to comment as to whether she may have been retaliated against for political reasons—specifically, whether she had refused to comply with any requests to take illegal or unethical actions. Bivins did not respond to The Clayton Crescent’s request for comment by press time.
Playing at “Deep Throat”
Bivins’ ouster comes after a series of pseudonymous e-mails from someone calling themselves “John David” and using the e-mail address “email@example.com” and another styling themselves as “Sherrad Frinks.” The county-level “Deep Throat” wannabes began sending mass e-mails to various officials, elected and appointed, from Clayton County, the local municipalities, and Georgia’s Congressional officials, as well as to various local news media outlets. The Clayton Crescent has used several methods, including direct replies to the e-mail addresses, to try and identify the authors—so far without success. This indicates a certain level of sophistication at hiding the origins of the e-mails. Content from each sender also indicates possible inside ties to local law enforcement or county government.
“Sherrad Frink” sent out selective pieces of information about an expunged conviction District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis had satisfied over two bounced checks. Other Davis opponents, a man and a woman, recorded robocall messages that also falsely claimed Davis and a former business associate were “convicted felons” and that urged voters to support Scott in District 4. By law, a judge can effectively remove a conviction after a defendant’s successful completion of probation and other conditions under the First Offender Act. The law explicitly states that such a person shall not be considered a convicted felon. “Sherrad Frink” did not include that information in the e-mail, nor the fact that Davis had indeed successfully completed his probation in 2016 and had made restitution in full.
“John David” accused Sheriff Victor Hill and former CCSO Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers of attempting to orchestrate a takeover of the Board of Commissioners and claimed Bivins and several other county department heads were being targeted for removal. “John David” also accused Anderson and Franklin of allying themselves politically with Bickers and Hill.
A few hours before the 3-2 decision Tuesday not to renew Bivins’ contract, “John David” sent out another e-mail, taunting Anderson and Franklin and alleging that Franklin wanted to take over as county chair with help from Hill and Bickers, among other claims.
The Clayton Crescent has repeatedly reached out to the senders of these e-mails, but has yet to receive a response. Several Open Records Requests are pending with the county to substantiate claims in the latest “John David” e-mails.
During the general election campaign, Hill posted photos of himself, Anderson, and District 4 challenger Janice Scott on his social media accounts. Anderson, who won reelection, hired Bickers’ Pirouette Companies, to help run her campaign. Bickers, who was convicted by a federal jury convicted on nine counts related to the Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal, is scheduled for sentencing on July 12. Those convictions included conspiracy to commit bribery (count 1), money laundering (counts 4-6), wire fraud (counts 7-10), and making false statements/falsifying tax returns (count 12). Her attorney said Bickers would appeal.
Bickers no longer appears on corporate documents filed with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and her partner, Keyla Jackson, is now the sole officer of Pirouette Companies. LLC. The corporate address listed on the company’s filing lists two “suites” at the UPS Store on West Paces Ferry Road.
It’s no secret
While few are willing to say so in public, numerous county politicos claim Hill is trying to take over the Board of Commissioners and the Clayton County Police Department in order to consolidate power.
They also note Hill’s close personal and professional connections with convicted felon Bickers, who has had a hand in numerous campaigns throughout Clayton County. Bickers found refuge at CCSO after being forced to resign from her job as Human Services Director with the City of Atlanta for failing to disclose her outside political campaign work income. In a few years, Bickers’ modest county salary as a jailhouse chaplain grew to six figures as chief of staff at the sheriff’s department—despite her own legal troubles, which included agents seizing her Lake Spivey home and assorted vehicles during the federal criminal investigation.
While she was at Atlanta City Hall, according to federal witnesses in her bribery trial, Bickers moved contractors’ money around several of her own accounts and allegedly passed out bribes among allies in various City Hall departments, as well as taking cash bribes under the table for herself. Since her conviction, three city officials have been suspended.
Meanwhile, Pirouette continued to work on local campaigns, including Anderson’s and Scott’s. Both got enthusiastic on-the-ground campaign support from Hill, another former Pirouette customer, who posted social media photos of himself posing in a Janice Scott t-shirt with Anderson, Franklin, and Scott. Anderson’s recent District 1 campaign paid Pirouette Companies $12,500 for campaign robocalls, according to campaign finance reports. Scott paid Pirouette Companies $1,500 for campaign consulting and $10,500 for campaign literature:
Bickers also was appointed briefly to the Henry County Development Authority (HCDA) but removed in early 2017. Henry County District 5 Commissioner Bruce Holmes had named Bickers to the post, with a unanimous vote from the Henry County Board of Commissioners.
Follow the money
The Sheriff’s Department’s proposed total budget for FY 2023 is $42,683,368, an increase over last year. However, the proposed FY 2023 budget shows drops in performance benchmarks and notes that CCSO “did not submit [the] requested Operational Plan.” Long-term departmental issues for FY 2024 and beyond include “recruiting, hiring, and training career-minded employees” and “increase sworn personnel to meet the increased demands of the Sheriff’s Office.”
According to the budget Bivins prepared for the BOC—which includes an award from the Government Finance Officers Association for Distinguished Budget Presentation—CCSO showed a marked decrease across 11 of 12 categories, along with significant drops in the 2023 budget for most of those benchmarks.
The performance measures used actual figures from 2020 and 2021, unaudited figures from 2022, and projected figures under the 2023 budget:
Some figures from 2021 and 2022 may reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, Georgia courts stopped providing most in-person activities. Evictions were temporarily suspended, which meant CCSO was not throwing as many people out of their homes and apartments. In 2021, CCSO reported zero evictions completed.
The figures budgeted for FY 2023 reflect a fraction of the previous three years, with the exception of warrants served/cleared. For example, CCSO issued thousand of citations in each of the last three years, but was budgeted for 106 in FY 2023. Similarly, even taking into account that CCSO did no evictions in 2021, it did 1,615 in 2020 and 1,314 in 2022’s unaudited numbers. The FY 2023 budget projected 118 evictions would be completed.
CCSO had 393 positions budgeted for FY 2023, the same as FY 2022—four more than in FY 2021.
Your tax dollars at work
CCSO gets its share of the county budget from several different funds. For FY 2023, these are the proposed amounts:
- GENERAL FUND
- Sheriff: $29,820,915
- Personnel services: $29,020,106
- Operations: $789,819
- Capital outlay: $10,990
- Courthouse Security: $900,000
- Personnel services: $900,000
- Jail Operations: $11,662,453
- Operations: $11,662,453
- Special Operations: $300,000
- Operations: $300,000
- Federal Narcotics Condemnation: $0
- Operating transfer out: $0 (was $351,290 in 2020)
- Sheriff: $29,820,915
- SHERIFF STATE NARCOTICS FUND
- Capital outlays: $0 (was $103,608 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- 2015 SPLOST CAPITAL PROJECT FUND
- Jail Operations: $0 (was $152,291 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- Operations: $0 (was $2,922 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- Capital outlay: $0 (was $149,369 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- Jail Operations: $0 (was $152,291 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- JAIL CONSTRUCTION AND STAFFING FUND
- Capital outlay: $180.000 (was $0 since 2020)
- Operating transfer out: $0 (was $418,000 in 2022’s unaudited figures; $470,000 in 2021; and $584,500 in 2020)
- SHERIFF DOJ FUND
- Operations: $13,910 (was $25,000 in 2022’s unaudited figure, $167,600 in 2021, and $25,102 in 2020)
- Capital outlay: $0 (was $150,000 in 2022’s unaudited figures, $179,279 in 2021, and $42,390 in 2020)
- OTHER COUNTY GRANTS FUND
- Operations: $0 (was $101,857 in 2o22’s unaudited figure, $28,469 in 2021, and $0 in 2020)
- Capital outlay: $0 (was $0 in 2022’s unaudited figure, $65,532 in 2021, and $29,864 in 2020)
- ARPA (AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT OF 2021)
- Personnel: $0 (was $844,441 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
- Operations: $0 (was $955,200 in 2022’s unaudited figure)
The ARPA funds were the federal government’s one-time COVID assistance package.
CCSO’s wish list
During the April 26 BOC work session, representatives of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department gave a presentation on CCSO’s budget request. Chief Deputy Ronald Boehrer was present as Capt. (now Maj.) Criss clicked through a PowerPoint with highlights of CCSO’s request.
Last fiscal year, the jail’s entire medical budget was $8.45 million. For FY 2023, CCSO asked the county for $11,708,807. Inmate food costs last year were $45,000 per week; CCSO cited price increases in a request for another $5,000 per week.
- Criss confirmed that, during COVID-19, the Clayton County Jail was over its 2,000 inmate capacity, that some inmates were kept longer due to the COVID-19 courts slowdown, and that this affected inmate health. (The proposed budget notes jail capacity is 1,536 beds.) Jones v. Hill, which alleges CCSO failed to take precautions against COVID-19 spreading in the county jail, is pending in federal court. At least 68 inmates had fallen ill and at least one had died by the time the suit was filed. CCSO had denied the outbreak. One inmate allegedly died on the toilet; jail staff argued about who would go get his body.
- CorrectHealth, the contractor that provides medical care to Clayton County’s inmates, is asking for more than a $3.25 million increase ($3,258,807.55). Nurses’ hourly rates are quoted as going from $28.40 to $75 per hour for LPNs and from $43.32 to $100 per hour for RNs. Those figures are in line with traveling nurse rates during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Numerous news outlets have reported that those rates have gone back down elsewhere. According to ZipRecruiter, an online job search site, “As of Jun 1, 2022, the average annual pay for a Correctional Nurse in the United States is $71,968 a year.” That comes out to about $34.60 per hour. ZipRecruiter also notes the city with the highest-paying correctional nurse salary, San Mateo, CA, offers $41.39 per hour.
- CCSO is asking for $102,368 to pad walls and floors in four observation cells “to prevent inmates from inflicting self bodily harm,” Criss said. “When the jail was constructed, mental health was not necessarily taken into consideration.”
- CCSO is responsible for feeding inmates three times each day. In FY 2022, the jail got $45,000 per week to do that, which would equal $2.34 million for 52 weeks. For FY 2023, CCSO requested an additional $260,000, saying the new weekly inmate meal cost would be “approximately $50,000 per week.” That adds up to $2.6 million over 52 weeks. However, the amount CCSO requested was $2,343,500.
- $54,610.80 for 40 carbon cylinders (each lasting 30 minutes) with straps for deputies and correctional officers to evacuate inmates and staff should a fire break out at the jail. Criss said Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services had donated some equipment and that the request was needed to put the tanks into service.
- An estimated $8,500 for 100 waist chain and handcuff sets for taking inmates to court
- About $3,000 in sand barricades “to place around the entrance of the courthouse to prevent vehicles from gaining access to the steps” (right now, CCSO parks patrol cars across the lane directly in front of the steps)
Who’s in charge here?
The presentation contained the claim that “The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency in Clayton County, Georgia.” While county code does provide for CCSO to carry out law enforcement duties, its primary duties include courthouse security, serving civil papers and criminal warrants, supervising work-release inmates and cleanup crews, “and assisting the Police Department in deterring and controlling crime within the County.”
County code offers a nearly identical job description for the Clayton County Police Department, which does not provide courthouse security but carries out the majority of the county’s street policing functions—including most arrests.
According to the proposed budget, “The Sheriff’s duties include, but are not limited to operating the County jail, issuing warrants, providing courthouse security and operating the work release program. The County jail is a 1,536-bed facility. The Police Department’s duties include criminal investigations, traffic patrol, SWAT team operation and a helicopter unit.”
Hill, who frequently circulates at community events, sends out birthday greetings on heavy stationery to seniors, and sends expensive branded flower arrangements and deputies to high-profile funerals, has a dedicated and vocal social media following that claims a direct correlation between Hill’s suspension and the increased crime rate. However, experts cite a number of reasons other than Hill’s suspension for that crime spike.
In Clayton County and other jurisdictions around the county, state, and country, law enforcement agencies have noted an increase in violent crime, including domestic incidents, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and confinement. Also during the pandemic: firearms and ammunition sales were up, kids were not in class and more likely to roam the streets while parents were at work, and many people were laid off from their jobs.
Another reason for crime numbers to go up during this time—one well-known to law enforcement officers—is the change in how crime statistics were reported. Local law enforcement agencies send their crime statistics to the FBI. In the past few years, the FBI has switched from the UCR (Universal Crime Report) system to a more-nuanced system called NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System). Before NIBRS, a single arrest with multiple charges might only report the most serious charge. NIBRS takes those other charges into account, as well.
This week, CCPD joined forces with municipal law enforcement agencies to form a drug and gang task force. CCSO was not a party to that operation.
Hill, who promotes himself as “The Crime Fighter,” has yet to explain why he hired and promoted a personal friend who was under federal indictment and why he was campaigning in recent weeks for two candidates who had hired a campaign consulting company, founded by a now-convicted felon facing federal sentencing and currently run by that felon’s partner.
Meanwhile, Hill himself remains under federal indictment in about a dozen cases and is fighting his current suspension by Gov. Brian Kemp. Hill’s attorneys have said the suspension is political.
The same day Bivins was removed as CFO, the Georgia Court of Appeals heard Hill’s argument that his full powers as sheriff be reinstated.