CONYERS -- After two called meetings and three closed sessions over the course of two days, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners laid off more than 10 county employees. The layoffs reportedly will save the county $1 million, but the county has not disclosed which positions have been cut.
Budget amendments approved Monday by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners involved laying off more than 10 county employees. However, that became a point of contention on Tuesday when the commissioners voted to add three positions back into the budget. Later in the same meeting, they took them out again.
The commissioners also approved the second reading of an ordinance eliminating the Emergency Services director's position. They voted to dismantle the department, creating a new Fire and Rescue Department and moving some other divisions over to other county departments.
The commissioners then approved a budget amendment that moved remaining operational funds totaling $59,700 from Emergency Services to other departments.
Another budget amendment was also approved that added $102,810 for positions in Public Affairs, General Engineering and Services and Recreation and Maintenance. Both budget amendments were approved unanimously.
Tuesday's budget amendments followed a vote Monday by the commissioners approving $1.079 million in budget amendments that were labeled as cost savings from positions cut from the county departments. Some positions had been unfilled while others were filled.
That raised a red flag for county resident Garvin Haynes, who called the vote Tuesday to add funds back into the budget illegal.
"I'm under the impression that you have to stick to the business of the special called meeting," Haynes said. "Y'all just amended that budget that was an approved budget yesterday. How can you do that at this meeting when you just put back $104,000 (sic) in the budget that you approved yesterday and has nothing to do with item two?" Haynes said.
Haynes asked for county attorney Carter Baig to respond. When Oden told Haynes that public comment was not a question and answer session, Haynes responded, "I think it's illegal, that's what I'm telling you."
The accusation caused the Board of Commissioners to convene its second closed session of the morning -- commissioners started Tuesday's called meeting with an hour-long closed-door session before voting on the agenda items. Both times the reasons given were personnel and threatening and pending litigation.
The commissioners reconvened in open session and voted on the budget amendments again for clarity. The commissioners then voted 2-1, with Commissioner JaNice Van Ness voting against, to take the $102,810 back out of the budget. The vote was followed by a quick adjournment by Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden.
Oden deferred all questions to Finance Director Roselyn Miller and County Clerk Jennifer Rutledge.
In a meeting afterward, Rutledge said, "As far as Mr. Haynes and his assertion that we had done something illegal is absolutely absurd."
She explained the commissioners can vote on budget amendments as many times as they want. The board sets a budget in the form of an ordinance each year, but can adjust the budget as it deems necessary through amendments. Rutledge said the amendments Tuesday were "separate and distinct votes."
"They can take a vote every five minutes if they want to. It's not the best way to do things, but, nonetheless there was nothing illegal done," Rutledge said. "I think what was getting confused, at least at what I was hearing and you can tell me, but using that word 'amendment' in budget amendment shouldn't be misconstrued as to amending a vote because that didn't happen."
Asked directly how many county employees were laid off, Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon said "north of 10, more than 10 basically, but the exact number I cannot get it to you." The county also cut positions that were not filled. Unpaid holidays for employees remain on the table along with a proposed early retirement incentive program, Pridgeon said.
Miller said she had only job codes to work with and could not identify the positions. Pridgeon and the other staff members did not say how many positions were involved with the $1 million in cuts.
Pridgeon did confirm the commissioners had the information concerning the positions cut Monday and the same information on Tuesday.
The information on the positions affected was requested by the Citizen with an assurance that the request would be met Monday. However, in an e-mail response, Rockdale County Public Affairs Director Erica Fatima said the request would be fulfilled "within 24 hours."