CORRECTION 5:17 p.m.: Bivins was CFO, not CEO
A federal district judge heard arguments on the pleadings Monday in the case of Bivins v. Franklin et al., the suit that former Clayton County Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins filed against Commissioners Felicia Franklin, Alieka Anderson, and Gail Hambrick after she was summarily terminated last year.
At the time, Anderson read a prepared statement alleging the county’s longstanding contract with Bivins was ultra vires—meaning that the Board of Commissioners had not created a Chief Financial Officer position—and the BOC voted 3-2 to terminate her current contract and not to renew her new contract, but refused to state why. Bivins had served as Clayton County CFO for over nine years and won awards for her financial reporting.
As CFO, Bivins had intimate knowledge of where every penny of the county budget was being spent, and several sources have told The Clayton Crescent that was why she had been targeted for removal. Bivins and Franklin had disagreed over travel funding requests that Franklin had put in, to the point where Franklin filed a report with Jonesboro Police, alleging that Bivins had “pointed her fingers in my face,” an allegation Franklin also made to The Clayton Crescent when she urged we pull security video from BOC headquarters. Neither The Clayton Crescent nor the investigating officer at JPD saw Bivins pointing fingers in Franklin’s face in the video. Franklin later repaid travel allowances she had gotten from the county.
In separate actions, Franklin has a hearing pending before the State Ethics Board amid allegations she spent campaign funds on personal expenses, as well as liens for four years’ worth of back state taxes that she owes the Georgia Department of Revenue. In 2020, when she filed her declaration of intent to run for reelection in District 3, Franklin signed an affidavit that she did not owe the State of Georgia any money, under penalty of false statement, a felony. Franklin has not returned multiple requests for comment on the matter.
Bivins alleges her contract and pending renewal were cancelled because her husband had campaigned against a BOC District 4 candidate, Janice Scott, for whom Anderson, Franklin, and former sheriff Victor Hill had campaigned. Had Scott won in District 4 against Commissioner DeMont Davis, the Hill-aligned politicians would have had an ironclad 4-1 lock on the Board of Commissioners.
Bivins’ attorneys have argued that her right to association was violated and allege the commissioners terminated Bivins’ contract due to her husband’s political activity. Bivins had not had any disciplinary or performance issues while serving as COO, but came under fire when commissioners learned the county had been paying for her to attend a Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt University. Bivins’ contract contained a clause under which the county would provide continuing education. In an interview with The Clayton Crescent last year, Chairman Jeff Turner, who approved Bivins’ tuition payments, said he had had no issue with Bivins going to Vanderbilt because whatever education she got ultimately would benefit the county.
Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford, who has a similar clause in his contract, also was enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Georgia at the time. When he offered to repay his tuition costs to the county, court filings allege, Anderson told him he did not have to because “we are only going after Ramona.”
During Monday’s hearing, Hambrick’s attorney, Kirsten Daughdril, presented a motion to dismiss, while Anderson’s and Franklin’s attorneys, Randall Farmer and Kenneth Jarrard respectively, asked for a judgment on the pleadings. Bivins’ attorneys, Edward Buckley and Jay Pontrelli, presented a response, followed by rebuttals on behalf of both Franklin and Hambrick:
Hambrick Motion to Dismiss
Anderson Motion for Judgment on Pleadings
Franklin Motion for Judgment on Pleadings
U.S. Northern District of Georgia Magistrate Judge William M. Ray II decided to defer a ruling on whether the contract was ultra vires but “will issue a ruling to allow the constitutional claims to continue.”