The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has yet to state publicly why former Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins’ contract was not renewed or why Bivins was then fired on the spot and given less than 48 hours to clean out her office, despite strong performance reviews in her personnel file.
Soon after, the board voted 3-2 to investigate whether Bivins’ Vanderbilt Ph.D. tuition was paid for with county funds. A clause in Bivins’ contract did allow for continuing education.
While no official reason for Bivins’ dismissal has been forthcoming, Jonesboro Police Department records show that, less than a year ago, District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin had filed a complaint against Bivins after Bivins told Franklin she should not have used a personal credit card to make a hotel reservation.
Franklin did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Bivins also did not reply to a request for comment by press time.
On July 16, 2021, Franklin filed a report with JPD after she sought county reimbursement for hotel charges she had made on a personal credit card. At the time, according to a statement that Bivins filed with JPD, Bivins told Franklin that she had asked commissioners not to use their personal cards for such deposits and that they were to go through a county employee tasked with making reservations.
In her complaint, Franklin alleged that Bivins had “point[ed] her fingers” at her. However, a police investigator who reviewed security camera footage from 112 Smith Street said he did not see Bivins do that nor did he find any evidence of criminal activity, so he closed the case. The Clayton Crescent reviewed the video, in which Bivins appears to wave her hand at one point while she and Franklin are talking.
Video from three angles, which was filed with JPD’s incident report, shows Franklin and Bivins talking and going downstairs into the lobby at 112 Smith Street. No audio was available, according to JPD:
The police report
“On Friday, July 16, 2021 at 14:00 hrs. I, Sergeant J. Oliver took a report at the Jonesboro Police Department from Mrs. Felicia Warner. Mrs. Warner reported that today, around 11:30 hrs. She had met with Clayton County CFO, Ramona Bivins at the Clayton County Commissioners Office, located at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro. Mrs. Warner reported that she had some discrepancies in a recent County business trip with hotel and rate charges and was attempting to get reimbursed. Mrs. Warner stated that during her conversation with Mrs. Bivins, Bivins pointed her finger in her face and became upset over the matter. Mrs. Warner said that Mrs. Bivins acted as she had no knowledge of the discrepancies even after she had e-mailed the charges to Bivins.
“Mrs. Warner reported that she did not agitate the situation, and only said, “I’ll expect to get my money in two days”. Mrs. Warner said that she then exited away from Mrs. Bivins and that Mrs. Bivins continued to be disruptive, following her downstairs and then outside the Commissioners Office. Mrs. Bivins also made the remark that they could see the Chairman concerning the matter.
“Mrs. Warner also reported that she does have an attorney and request the matter to be investigated.
“Assistant Chief Godfrey was able to send Mrs. Bivins a statement form via internet. At 18:45 hrs. Mrs. Bivins transported a completed statement form and two other witness statements.”
In their own words
Franklin filed this statement with JPD:
“On 7/16/2021, I proceeded to the Finance Dept to inquire of the status/and reimbursement of a county financial error. After requesting the financial error to be resolved within two day[s], CFO Ramona Bivins proceeded to follow me down the front stairwell yelling and pointing her finger after a repeated warning. CFO continued to follow me into the main lobby area and down the Commissioner’s Hall.
“Not only did Ramona Bivins point her fingers but she continously [sic] followed into the Hallway. This is a direct violation of my individual rights.”
Bivins also filed a statement with JPD:
“…as I was getting ready to get on the elevator to go downstairs to go to the restroom, Commissioner Franklin was getting off and stated she was coming to see me. I asked what was going on and turned around and followed her into the finance office where she proceeded to state she came to see if her check was ready. I asked what check and she stated in her usually smart voice, my reimbursement for the trip that the hotel had charged her card and that she had sent the documents to me. I advised her I had not received an email from her She stated back in her usually snarky tone she had sent [them] to Vickie. As I was searching my emails she walk[ed] to the end of Calvin’s desk and spoke to him [in] a very sweet calm tone, totally opposite of when she spoke to me. I told her again that I didn’t receive an email and she did not include me on the email she sent to Vickie. She said well I’m sending it now, when can I get my money. I initially asked her if Rochelle had entered her travel into the system and it would have to go through workflow; it would have to be approved by the Chairman or someone designated from that office, it will then come to me for approval and then A/P would cut the check. I reiterated this to her twice. I also told her that Commissioners should not be using their cards for reservations that require a deposit or payment, that they should contact Vickie to handle and I will be sending an email to all of the Commissioners reminding them of such. She stated that she followed the procedures my staff provided Rochelle and she will send them to me. As of the time of this response, it has not been received. Comm Franklin stated that she wanted her reimbursement in two days. I advised her that I can[‘t] guarantee that will happen. We both walked out of the office with her stating two days as we entered the stairway she continued to say two days and I again stated Commissioner I can’t promise that. She kept talking, stopping on the stairwell landing (I kept walking) and further stated that she wasn’t gonna go back and forth with me and that she isn’t the CFO and asked ‘aren’t you over the staff and the processes and policies?’ to which I responded I am. She said well as I said I’m not the CFO at which time I stopped, held up my hand, with my back still to her (not pointing my finger at her), and said Commissioner I’m not doing this with you. When she asked what I was talking about I told her I’m not doing her bad attitude and how she talks to people; I’m not doing it today. She kept stating she’s not the CFO and ranting about the procedures at which time I told her to take it to the Chairman, just take it to the Chairman. At this time we were walking through the stated, ‘Take it to the Chairman, just take to the Chairman.’ As we were both at the double doors I stated, ‘as a matter of fact we can go see the Chairman now’ to which she replied she didn’t work for the Chairman. As we were walking through the reception area to enter the hallway by your conference room she told me I need to not be disrespectful in front of staff, which was perplexing because we didn’t have any conversation in front of staff except when we were discussing the email and the process, which I was not disrespectful, did not use a negative tone of voice as she obviously did with me. After we went through the door I told her what she just did was disrespectful and she asked what? I told her making that comment in front of Ms. Cheryl was disrespectful. She kept walking down the hallway chanting two days. I went to Cheryl Ellis’ office and asked if Chairman was here because Katrina’s door was closed. While I was in Cheryl’s office she could still be heard chanting two days.
“At no time was I disrespectful to Comm Franklin and at no time did I point my finger in her face! I don’t even think we were even that close to each other, other than when we were in the Finance reception area.
“Staff can tell you that she used a nasty tone with me while using a totally different tone when speaking to Calvin and Shantrell. When I returned to my office my Assistant even asked me if that was Comm Franklin. She has never met her and knew who she was based on what she’s heard from others outside our department.”
Another statement from Assistant to the CFO Vanessa Sarden corroborated Bivins’ workflow comments and Warner’s “two days” statement. It also read, “I observed Commissioner Franklin holding a cellphone in her hand and repeated that she would ‘re-send it’ to Ramona. Ramona replied, ‘I have asked you all not to pay for your hotels out of pocket…to call Vicki and have her reserve your hotel room for you.'”
Receptionist Calvin Ross filed this statement with JPD:
“On Friday, July 16, 2021 at approximately 11:30am, Commissioner Warner came to the Finance Department with Mrs. Bivins. Commissioner Warner asked her, ‘Did she receive her email she sent and that Mrs. Bivins should have received the email. Commissioner Warner stepped back and said, ‘Do you have it now (email)’. Mrs. Bivins said, ‘Yes.’ Commissioner Warner looked at me (Calvin Ross), walked over to me, gave me a hug and was very pleasant. Then Commissioner Warner said to Mrs. Bivins, in not a pleasant way, ‘when can I get my money and I need it now.’
“Mrs. Bivins said, ‘It is a process.” Commissioner Warner said, in not a pleasant way, ‘Can I get it in two days.’ Mrs. Bivins said, ‘She did not think so.’ The two of them walked out of Finance heading downstairs.”
On July 27, Lt. Chris Cato reviewed the surveillance video, said he did not see Bivins “point her fingers at Warner in a hostile manner,” found the case “unfounded,” and closed it:
“On July 27, 2021 I, Lt. Cato, obtained the video surveillance from 112 Smith Street, Clayton County Government Building. In review of the video (which was without audio) I did not observe any criminal acts committed. I also did not observe Bivins to point her fingers at Warner in a hostile manner. It appeared as if both women were moving their hands while talking. This case will be closed as unfounded as it lacks sufficient probable cause and evidence for an arrest to be made. Nothing further at this time.”
During the June 14 BOC meeting, after several public comments demanding to know why Bivins had been let go, District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis said he had “received no e-mail, no phone call, nor did we have a discussion about [Bivins’ alleged] lack of job performance in executive session.” He also characterized the call for an investigation into her tuition payments as a “witch hunt.”
Franklin replied that “we do not put ourselves in a situation out here on this dais. So once again, please understand that all personnel matters should be discussed in executive session. I believe there was a code of conduct that was passed once before, to bring the entire board up to date on what can be stated on this dais, and what cannot, in line with our duties as commissioners to protect this county. Both citizens and fiduciary.”
July 16, 2021: Around 11:30 a.m., Warner asks for a credit card reimbursement for a trip; Bivins says she has asked commissioners not to use personal credit cards for reservations and to follow a procedure. The women continue their dispute as they leave the Finance Department and enter the lobby of 112 Smith Street. At 4 p.m., Warner files a report with the Jonesboro Police Department. Bivins and two witnesses also file statements.
July 23, 2021: Around 4:30 p.m., JPD’s Lt. Chris Cato speaks with Warner, who tells him to get the security video from Chairman Jeff Turner.
July 27, 2021: Cato reviews video of Bivins and Franklin walking through 112 Smith Street, determines no crime has taken place, and closes the case “as unfounded as it lacks sufficient evidence for an arrest to be made.”
June 7, 2022: BOC votes 3-2 not to renew CFO Ramona Bivins’ contract. The board then votes 3-2 to terminate her current contract and directed her to clear her office and return county property within 48 hours. In a third 3-2 vote, the BOC named Deputy CFO of Budget, Grants and SPLOST Dennis Johnson as interim CFO, effective immediately. No reason was given.
June 21, 2022: The BOC votes 3-2 to ask Mauldin and Jenkins to recommend an outside accounting firm to investigate any payments allegedly authorized by Turner for Bivins’ Ph.D. studies at Vanderbilt University. In a second 3-2 vote, the BOC strips Turner of his executive powers to authorize spending and gives it to the CFO’s office (Johnson).
June 24, 2022: Johnson retires.
June 28, 2022: The BOC votes unanimously (4-0; DeMont Davis was absent) to appoint former Internal Audit Director Stacey E. Merrit as interim CFO.