Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Gotta Love Local Governments

Posted by Maggie on February 11, 2008

I used to think it could be really interesting to get involved in local government. It wouldn’t require the commitment or finances to get a big state or federal elected position, but could still help people. For a while now I’ve been dealing with local authorities here in the Atlanta area, cities, counties, etc. And one thing I have decided is that I will never ever ever ever ever get involved in local government. Ever. The level of pettiness and the lack of real progress would drive me completely insane.

I generally have only an item or two of business in these meetings, but must patiently sit through the bickering and the pointless arguing. It really makes a girl miss the courtroom. (Local officials are fond of saying, “This is not a court of law.”) In a courtroom there are rules. They may not always be followed, but even then you have a system that tells you what to do when the rules aren’t followed. I loved Procedure classes in law school and now I understand why. Local governments don’t really have a lot of documented procedures, and this leads to semi-controlled chaos.

They can also lead to corruption. The AJC, which I occasionally jab for their lack of real reporting, does like to tear into local officials when it has dirt. For a few months there’s been the occasional story on the former Fulton County Superior Court Clerk, Juanita Hicks, who recently retired. Upon retirement she received a six-figure pension. But in addition, she also managed to snag a 10-month contract to write a “history” of the clerk’s office. The contract is over. There is no history. There aren’t even notes. And the County paid Hicks over $70,000.

Why you need a history of the clerk’s office is unclear. Why you’d pay someone $55/hour to do so is even less clear. When confronted, Hicks angrily insisted there was no history. The county attorney who hired her hasn’t commented. Two salaried jobs were cut so Hicks could be put on the payroll.

So what now? Well, that’s a good question. It doesn’t appear that any ethics laws have been violated. And the County Commission may want an accounting… but that’s really not a body I’d trust to get anything done. (You remember the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, right? The ones who made national news because they want to outlaw saggy pants?)

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