At Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. Board of Commissioners meeting, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office is scheduled to ask for $1.58 million to add 25 more deputies, prompting at least one commissioner to ask why Sheriff Levon Allen doesn’t include his request as part of the regular upcoming budget hearings for FY 2024.
Allen wants the positions funded so he can put two deputies in each courtroom, as well as add deputies to the Civil Unit, which serves court papers like temporary protective orders, writs, and warrants
Tonight’s BOC agenda packet for May 16, 2023
In recent weeks, CCSO has spent well over half a million dollars on a fleet of electric cars known for defective batteries that can cause fires. Those cars, as of press time, sit unused in the jail parking lot, waiting to be issued to employees who have yet to be hired—despite Sheriff Levon Allen’s spending on recruitment billboards, commercials, and squad car logos during his special election run.
Ongoing allegations of violence, blackmail, and corruption at the Clayton County Jail have led to a RICO indictment by a grand jury and complaints from citizens about how much the Sheriff’s Office is spending to repair door locks that inmates allegedly have destroyed.
To improve jail perimeter security, CCSO also invested in two high-tech surveillance drones.
Then there’s the matter of millions of dollars in legal judgments the county continues to pay out from former sheriff Victor Hill’s time in office.
Jail problems continue
On Saturday, two sources told The Clayton Crescent that a “weekender”—an inmate who reports to serve time on weekends only—got a firearm through jail security. We also got an unconfirmed report of another stabbing inside the jail.
Without secure doors and trustworthy staff to guard them, it’s next to impossible to stop violent pretrial detainees from jumping nonviolent detainees (and each other, and medical staff, and COs, who do not carry firearms because detainees might take them away).
Two female detainees who recently were released after being held on minor traffic offenses recently told The Clayton Crescent that CCSO was testing out doors in the women’s dorm before investing in the new equipment.
To date, CCSO has not released an update or timetable for when the door repairs will be completed.
You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car
For some people seeking a path to law enforcement, serving as a corrections officer can be the first stop. The barrier to the job is low: a GED is the only education requirement. The pay might be better than working in fast food—$42,013.34 is the low-end salary—but it’s still pretty low.
And the job is dangerous and unpleasant, to say the least. If you like the possibility of being jumped, beaten, and stabbed with a homemade shank, dealing with inmates who may be experiencing mental health crises without any medication, pulling dead people out of cells, the aroma of unspeakable filth from long-stopped-up toilets, and infestations of various insects and vermin, this could be the job for you.
So it’s understandable why it might take a little something extra to attract and keep new hires.
To that end, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office has taken delivery of 20 Chevy Bolt electric vehicles, which Sheriff Levon Allen had touted as recruiting inducements for corrections officers at the jail.
Temporary tags show the cars came from Jim Ellis Automotive Group, with a 30-day temporary tag expiration date of June 18, 2023. That would put the purchase at approximately May 18, 2023. Today’s date is May 15, 2023. The Clayton Crescent shot these photos of the cars at the county jail on May 11 around 8:15 p.m. Friday, May 19 would have been 30 days before June 18:
The compact cars, 18 black and two silver, take up about half the spaces in the visitor’s parking lot outside the jail entrance. Retail price starts at $26,500 for the basic model—roughly $530,000 for 20 if the county paid that price. The county could snag a $7,500 clean vehicle federal tax credit on each car, according to Chevy. The company says 40,000 charging stations are available for the cars and that a 30-minute charge can get you 100 miles.
However, the department does not have a charging station in place for when the new recruits pick up those cars.
We asked a man wearing a security company uniform, who was patrolling the parking lot and photographing us photographing the cars, where the charging station was. He said there wasn’t one, but that they might be building one around the back side, near the employee parking lot. We drove around and saw a small, low, cement building, not unlike what you’d see at a gas station, and a freshly-graded area about the size of a small parking lot, under construction.
CCSO reportedly has committed to buying about 50 of the Bolts. At retail, that’d be over half a million dollars worth of cars.
But 2023 is the last model year for the Bolt, which Chevrolet has discontinued because of problems with the batteries overheating and catching fire. In 2021, GM issued a recall. Last month, the company announced that it would stop making the Bolt at the end of this year.
That could pose problems for the county when those cars need parts or service—or if a future employee or passenger in the employee’s car were to be injured due to a mechanical issue like a battery catching on fire. GM replaced the defective battery packs and updated the software.
The Clayton Crescent has filed an Open Records Request seeking more information about how CCSO came to invest in the discontinued model, how much it has spent to do so, and whether one or more charging stations were part of the deal.
Law enforcement’s blank check
At tomorrow’s Board of Commissioners meeting, the published agenda shows CCSO has requested $1,583,527.50 to add 25 deputies at a salary of $63,341. At press time, the position was posted with a starting salary of $48,121.78.
Human Resources notes, “These additional positions will provide a minimum of 2 deputies in each courtroom and add additional deputies to our civil unit (this unit serves and executes TPOs, Writs, and warrants).” CCSO’s constitutional duties emphasize service of court papers; when those papers aren’t served, the courts get backed up and the jail gets overcrowded.
If approved, the money for the new deputy slots would come out of the county’s general fund. It’s not clear how long it would take to find 25 qualified applicants.
During last Tuesday’s work session, District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick questioned why CCSO was bringing requests that she said should be part of the regular budget hearings coming up in a couple of weeks.
“Not confused, but this is what I always say at this time of the year,” Hambrick said. “This is budget time. So I’m—this should be a part, I—well. This should be a part of the budget. And it should be in the budget discussion. So I was a bit taken aback when I saw this, and I’m thinking, we’re right at budget. This is what, May? And budget is due June? For July 1. So this should be a part of the budget. I don’t see why we’re taking this out as an individual discussion. I think it should be discussed in the budget, Chairman sends that to us, and we look at it and, you know, talk about it then. Sooooo… what’s going on?”
“And it’s at [Allen’s] request that it comes before this board,” Turner said. “Not staff or Finance or anybody else. The sheriff has requested that we review this ahead of the budget. But at the end of the day, it’s our decision to vote, either vote on it then, or just to hold it for the budget discussion.”
“We keep going off course,” Hambrick replied. “We did it last year, and we did it the year before. I would like for us to stay with the budget. I mean, not saying this won’t pass, you know, but let it stay in the budget. Because what’s to say if every department head comes and wants to do the same thing? Then we’re doing a double budget, I guess. I mean, I don’t know what to call it. I want us to stay with the budget.”
Franklin responded with a lengthy soliloquy, defending Allen as an and disgraced former sheriff Victor Hill, who started his federal prison sentence Monday or abusing pretrial detainees in the jail:
“Commissioner, with all due respect, I agree with you, but this board chooses when we bring things before us,” she said, “No offense, but we just voted for a raise for the top. It seems like this board has no problem bringing raises for the top. And it doesn’t matter if it’s within the budget cycle. And that is unfair. We gotta be consistent. And just like, the reason I even called for the question earlier, I find unfortunately that there are times to where there’s one narrative that applies at one particular time, but not at the other time. And in all fairness, for a fair debate, this sheriff just got in the position. And if he’s asking and needing something, I ask this board to go back and review our constitutional responsibilities. It doesn’t matter how people try to turn it, or twist it, but I have said over and over again, as a board, when we’re inconsistent with the way that we treat those who are serving our community, it just is not reflected good on us. And we sat here, and we promoted people, we gave people raises, but like you talked about earlier, Commissioner Anderson, a lot of these people who are employees live in this county and are struggling to make it, and they deserve to be protected. And if that sheriff who was just got in sees that he needs it, then we can’t stop an elected official from bringing it before the board. No offense, we hired Ms. Jackson. We hired several other people. And there was no question. It was just, ‘How much they need?’ and it’s done. We gave Matthew a raise. I could go on and on and on. So if we are going to say we’re going to stick to the budget cycle, then we gotta be consistent with it. And we can’t do it at the risk of putting our community at risk because it’s coming from an elected official that this board, or the person who may or may not be over operations, cannot control. That is right. And there’s a difference between right and wrong. But it’s the majority vote that does go forward. And regardless, I want to remind you all again, it’s for the CFO and those folks to bring information before us. We’ve got computers. And if something’s needed, and we need to vet it, it needs to come before us. It needs to come before us. To have one commissioner, ‘well, they’re really asking for 50,’ no. Bring the full ask, bring the full details, whether it’s PD—I fought for PD. But at the same token, the citizens suffer, because we choose when to apply certain narratives. And that just is not right to these people.”
COO Detrick Stanford said any delays in staff providing information to the board were because the staff is trying to do its due diligence: “Again, the deal there is, if something is not coming before the board, it’s the fact that we’re ensuring that we’re vetting the information, so that we’re providing this board and the citizens accurate information. If there’s been a situation where we haven’t brought something before the board, it has not been due to staff inserting themselves in a way to preclude that information from coming to the board or not representing the needs of that respective department, or constitutional officer, whoever it might be. It’s ensuring that we bring forth the information. So, in this particular instance, as it pertains to the sheriff’s request, we ask that it be tabled to the second board meeting in May because we wanted to ensure that we understood his request appropriately, to make sure that we’re, again, because to your point, the staff has to represent that information. And to the sheriff’s credit, he said that. He said, ‘Listen, I’m still trying to figure out all the particulars of my department I don’t know.’ And part of the conversation was about the nuances, as well as our processes that we use in order to bring information forth to this board. So again, we’ll be ready to provide all the details that the sheriff would like to see [as] part of the request at next week’s board meeting. More importantly, he’ll be here or represented from his department to, again, expound upon or provide clarity to the areas that ultimately, we can’t speak to as it pertains to the operational tenor of his department.”
Franklin replied, “The only thing on my timeline is crime after crime after crime, and I’m gonna say it: the crime didn’t go up until a certain person [Hill] was gone.”
More crime or better stats?
Hill was suspended in April 2021, the same year that the way the FBI collects crime statistics changed from the broader SRS to the more-specific NIBRS system. Under SRS, one arrest might be attached to two or more crimes. Under NIBRS, the crimes are counted separately. This can be misinterpreted as an increase in crime. The FBI says NIBRS counts about twice as many crimes as SRS did: “Not only does NIBRS look at all of the offenses within an incident, but it also looks at many more offenses than the traditional SRS does. NIBRS collects data for 52 offenses, plus 10 additional offenses for which only arrests are reported. SRS counts limited data for 10 offenses and 20 additional crimes for which only arrests are reported.” By accounting for different offenses instead of lumping them all together, the FBI says, this gives law enforcement officers better and more detailed information that helps them to link more data, thus solving more crimes.
Last year, 11Alive’s Dawn White reported that CCSO reported higher percentages in its crime rates than the Clayton County Police Department did, noting that, “although data shows crime in Clayton County has gone up after the sheriff’s suspension, percentages the sheriff’s office posted are much higher than we got from the county police department.“
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund goes in depth about crime-frequency false narratives. The Thurgood Marshall Institute found:
- The nationwide spike in homicides in 2020 was related to COVID-19, and a community’s ability to recover more quickly was due to “local conditions.”
- Evictions, social and economic instability during COVID-19, and pandemic-induced economic inequality were associated with increased homicides in 2020.
- Lack of bail reform, more money for law enforcement budgets, and “law and order” prosecutors had no impact on the 2020 crime spike.
You can read the full report here:
County spending in context
The Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Crystal Edmondson reports shocking data from the Urban League of Greater Atlanta’s “State of Black Georgia” report. The report found that median Black family income in Georgia is $47,000 compared to White families’ $61,000 median income—a 23% disparity. What’s more, while Black Georgians make up 32 percent of the population statewide, they comprise 50 percent of inmates in Georgia Department of Corrections facilities.
Clayton County’s population is 73.4% Black. Local residents are, generally speaking, making significantly less income and paying higher taxes on properties that are worth half of what comparable homes are worth in most of metro Atlanta. In fact, the report notes, only “15% of Black households are owner-occupied, compared to 44% for White Georgians.”
In Clayton County, 52% of households were owner-occupied in 2022. The median value was $136,600.
Property taxes fund the majority of county expenses. And renters are not immune. When. the landlord’s expenses—like property taxes—go up, so does your rent.
The Urban League report also points out that low-income Whites and people living in more rural areas are suffering similar inequities.
As county budget hearings approach, factors for elected officials to consider include ongoing economic pressures on Clayton County residents, such as:
- the cost of basic goods and services (Consumer Price Index)
- median wages for the area, which are relatively low compared to the rest of metro Atlanta
- this year’s estimated property taxes
- yet another rate increase from Georgia Power approved today by the Georgia Public Service Commission, adding about $16-$18 more to already-high monthly bills to pay for Plant Vogtle’s $16 billion cost overrun for its nuclear expansion
It’s the people’s money
The public has the right to weigh in on county and local budget discussions. Some questions to consider are whether the county afford to foot the bill for more spending at the sheriff’s department—or at any department.
What have departments done to cut back on expenses? Which expenses? What expenses should be prioritized and why? What’s the plan for the inevitable housing price drop or the possible default on the federal debt? What contingencies is the county putting in place for the next economic slowdown? Should county leaders drive big SUVs that get 16 mpg and cost two to three time the average Clayton County resident’s annual salary? Should they move to discontinued EVs? Should they consider tried and true hybrids?
And, regardless of whatever it is that county leaders are budgeting for, what is the process for them to do due diligence before sending that purchase order?
Clayton county voters will be able to voice their thoughts at public comment periods during regular meetings and budget hearings, as well as by writing letters, e-mailing, and calling their elected officials in the next few weeks as the budget process gets underway. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
You can learn more about the current budget (as amended) and past years’ budgets on the county’s website. Here’s the current budget:
Tonight’s meeting also features a presentation on county property tax assessments and procedures.