Bad county policy causing frustrations

Published 10:01 pm Friday, October 31, 2014

There are many people working hard in Bainbridge and Decatur County to move our communities forward — to create a better place to live, to raise a family and to do business. Some of these folks are elected, some are appointed and some are volunteers.

Much time, effort and energy is, and has been, spent to actually have a positive impact on the current and future lifestyles in our communities. In some cases, people actually reach into their own pockets, spending their own money, in an effort to maintain and improve the quality of life in Bainbridge and Decatur County.

That effort has become tougher and tougher recently. And I see and sense a very real frustration among citizens regarding the current state of affairs in our community.

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I also sense the time has come for those who care about the future of all of Decatur County to make those frustrations known.

Anyone who attended (a handful of interested people were there) last Tuesday night’s Decatur County Commission meeting witnessed the source of some of the frustration.

At a meeting in August, this board made the misguided decision to pass a resolution stating that Decatur County would provide legal representation to county employees who ran afoul of the law or were sued in civil court.

At the time the decision was made to provide legal representation to three federally indicted Decatur County Sheriffs deputies, the county’s attorney, Brown Moseley, cited a state law, section 45-9-21, as the county’s “obligation to provide legal representation.”

Language in that particular law says the county can provide such representation “at their discretion.”

Fast forward two months when another person, former Sheriff’s office employee Rachel Trolinger, comes forward to request county-funded legal representation after being charged with forgery.

This time, Moseley says that the county can make the choice on whether to provide the representation because the passed resolution includes the language, “at their discretion.”

Does that phrase “at their discretion” mean two different things at two different times?

In August, it meant the county was obligated and in October it means the county can choose. I don’t believe we should pay lawyers fees for any criminal case, under any circumstance. But, after passing the misguided and unfortunate resolution, the county did the right thing and voted to pay Trolinger’s lawyer $5,000 to represent her in the forgery case.

With that decision, our financial exposure now stands at $61,976.52 in attorneys’ fees in criminal cases.

Decatur County taxpayers have paid $28,940 to Whigham-based attorney Josh Bell to represent Liz Croley, $28,036 to Ken Hodges, an attorney based in the Atlanta office of Polsinelli PC to represent Sheriff Wiley Griffin, and now $5,000 to Camilla-based attorney Jami Lewis to represent Trolinger.

While Croley has been indicted with a trial scheduled to begin in US District Court in Albany in January, Griffin is not under indictment. Two of the other three individuals under federal indictment, Chris Kines and Wade Umbach, were provided court-appointed attorneys. The family of Wiley Griffin IV is providing his legal representation.

At that Tuesday night meeting, it was revealed that another county employee, assigned to the Decatur County Jail, under investigation for sexual assault of an inmate, had requested for legal representation.

Now, as you see in the front page of this edition, another county employee is in line to make the same request. To be clear, I am unaware of Glen Johnson making such a request, but the precedent is set.

At that same meeting, in a somewhat disingenuous display, commissioners discussed the “unintended consequences” of unanimously passing the legal fee resolution in August.

Why would the commission think these requests are unintended? The resolution, that, again, was passed unanimously, allows for these very requests. It’s almost beyond comprehension that this commission could be so shortsighted to not see this coming.

This commission invited these requests and now the taxpayers are footing the bill for a grossly misguided resolution.

The previously mentioned $61,000 is just the start. Hold on and see how high that number becomes.

Commissioner Russell Smith had the right idea, although a little too late, when he made a motion to rescind the entire resolution at the meeting this week. It’s unfortunate that none of the other five commissioners would step up and second the motion. As a result the motion died.

The resolution doesn’t need to be “tweaked.” It doesn’t need to be amended, and it doesn’t need new language. It needs to be rescinded, never to return. It’s awful policy, plain and simple.

I invite those of you who have become frustrated with our current situation to make that frustration clear. Contact your commissioner and express your thoughts on this situation.

It is difficult work to move the community forward when our leaders continue to make that job more difficult than it needs to be.