Elbert County commissioners catch flak in lengthy meeting

By Rick Gustafson
Posted 11/18/15

In what might be described as an open rebellion, some Elbert County elected officials and staff members initiated an organized uprising against the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners at the …

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Elbert County commissioners catch flak in lengthy meeting

Posted

In what might be described as an open rebellion, some Elbert County elected officials and staff members initiated an organized uprising against the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners at the board's regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 18.

Though much of the staffers' and officials' outrage was directed at the perceived dysfunction of the BOCC as a whole, the majority of the ire was directed at District 2 Commissioner Kelly Dore and District 3 Commissioner Larry Ross for their roles in adding two items to the BOCC's agenda regarding the possible suspension of County Attorney Wade Gateley.

The opening salvo was fired by Dallas Schroeder, Elbert County clerk and recorder, during a segment of the meeting allocated for elected officials, department heads and employees to address the BOCC. Schroeder expressed his concerns for the state of the county and especially for the two agenda items relating to Gateley, a proposed 30-day paid administrative leave and the engagement of an outside law firm to handle legal matters during his absence.

"This county has put together a great team over the past few years and has made great progress in putting its financial house in order, great progress in putting the employees first, great progress in making this county what it can be," Schroeder said. "I believe it is an attempt to break up this team and put disorder back into Elbert County."

Schroeder accused Ross of "slowing down" business that benefited county taxpayers and accused Dore of causing strife and confusion among the staff and employees by "inserting herself into the process."

"I wish things were better, but because of these actions, I have no confidence in either Commissioner Dore nor Commissioner Ross in leading this county, and therefore I call for both of you to resign immediately," he said to the applause of about half of the overflow crowd that forced the relocation of the meeting from the courthouse to the fairgrounds.

For the next hour, 18 elected officials and employees echoed Schroeder's sentiment, with Sheriff Shayne Heap, Treasurer Rick Pettitt and Surveyor Keith Westfall all calling for Dore and Ross to resign.

Many comments were also made in support of Ed Ehmann, county manager. Though not specifically singled out, the group appeared to be under the impression that Dore and Ross were also planning to take action against Ehmann.

Ross responded by praising the work of the county's employees for the improvements to the county's situation and addressed the group's concerns regarding Ehmann.

"First of all, I want to point out to you that these agenda items in no way relate to our county manager. They do have to do with issues with the county attorney," Ross said. "We place these items on the agenda to work out issues with the county attorney and the county attorney only."

Dore also reiterated that the proposed action against Gateley had nothing to do with Ehmann.

"We have placed this on the agenda because we could not come together," she said. "We have three commissioners here that are sitting on a board together and only one is being told what is happening."

District 1 Commissioner Robert Rowland also entered the fray, which devolved into a string of accusations leveled among the commissioners in what county resident Tony Baker described as a Jerry Springer-like hearing as he rebuked all three commissioners during his public comment.

Not everyone concurred with the staff's praise for Gateley. Rick Brown, a retired attorney and previous member of the planning commission, called out Gateley for speaking at the meeting.

"Until today it was unimaginable to me that an attorney of an elected body would get up and attack his client in public. It is shocking and shockingly unprofessional," Brown said.

Brown, who has a pending lawsuit against the county for a vote taken in April to indemnify commissioners, also encouraged the BOCC to consider the quality of the work they have been getting and the quality of the attorney-client relationship.

In the end, neither Ross nor Dore resigned, and the two items regarding Gateley were removed from the agenda by a unanimous vote. The meeting proceeded in a tense but polite tone to other county business and a public hearing on the proposed 2016 budget.

During one of two recesses in the five-hour meeting Gateley was visibly moved by the show of support from his coworkers.

"I'm relieved and hope we can get things worked out," he said. "I hope we can use this to move forward as a county."

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