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FRONT PAGE - DECEMBER 29, 1999 - DANIELSVILLE, GA

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RECALL CHAIRMAN

Jerry Mattox has led a recall effort against District 3 commissioner Patsy Pierce. He is pictured next to a recall sign which was defaced in June, with someone placing the name of Jerry Mattox over Patsy Pierce.
POLITICS
Newsmakers of the Year
District 3 commissioner Patsy Pierce and recall chairman Jerry Mattox
BY ZACH MITCHAM
While Madison County's political storm has died down considerably, 1999 was not a stable year in county politics.
There were resignations, recall efforts, libel suits, Ethics Commission investigations, an attempt to kick a commissioner out of the Republican party, a contempt order filed against the commission chairman, a lawsuit between the county government and schools, reported vandalism and a politically charged $13,000 pay cut.
A number of people were involved in these conflicts. But two names grabbed the most headlines - Patsy Pierce and Jerry Mattox. Madison Countians unfamiliar with commissioner Pierce or recall chairman Mattox at the beginning of 1999 probably know of the two by now. If county residents haven't read about the two or seen them on TV, they've surely noticed the large green and white signs bearing their names by county roads this year.
The third recall fight in the county has been lengthy and often ugly. And it has yet to be resolved. Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10 at 1 p.m. in Jackson County Superior Court.
Mattox, who helped organize recall efforts against commissioners Jack Fortson and Ken Clark, launched a recall effort against Pierce in April. Like the recall efforts that forced Clark and Fortson to resign from office earlier this year, the District 3 effort was based on three alleged open meetings violations of the Madison County Board of Commissioners in 1997.
Issues allegedly discussed illegally in private included the county's policy on employee probation, the policy on setting the county clerk's salary, whether county employees should wear helmets on county equipment and the cost of training for county Emergency Medical Technicians.
While the alleged illegal meetings were the basis of the three recall efforts, few dispute that a 1998 commissioners' vote to double their own pay was the spark that lit the recall flame. Many citizens were outraged at the commissioners, saying they were selfish and sneaky in approving the pay increases.
There are those who have applauded the three recall efforts, saying that leaders should act in the public's interest, not their own. Others have expressed dismay, believing Pierce and her two fellow commissioners were wrongly accused of breaking the law.
Another response, and perhaps the most overwhelming, has been a desire to see a lid put on all the political feuding.
Pierce maintained that the recall efforts were not "about alleged illegal meetings."
"Some people think or have been led to believe that we have committed some type of crime," said Pierce earlier this year. "And some media have made it appear that way. If one of us did something wrong, we all did."
Pierce said the real reasons for the recalls were that she, Fortson and Clark voted to fire county attorney Pat Graham as well as to sue commission chairman Wesley Nash, claiming that the chairman illegally bypassed board authority on financial and personnel matters. The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in favor of the commissioners this year.
Pierce said the judgment proved the commissioners were "hardly making it all up" about the chairman's wrong doings.
Like Clark and Fortson, Pierce believes Graham was behind the recall efforts. Graham, however, has denied any involvement in the efforts.
Mattox maintained that Pierce should not only be removed from office, but that she should no longer be a member of Madison County's Republican party.
He said Pierce failed to participate in affairs of the party, while conducting herself in a manner detrimental to the local party. Mattox said his support of Pierce's removal was "solely based upon illegal acts she committed while in office - specifically illegal meetings she attended." Although he also admitted he was angered by Pierce's actions against chairman Nash.
Mattox also questioned Pierce's use of her in-home fax line funded by the county. He said there were $26 in questionable expenses. But the commissioners voted to cover those expenses after it was revealed that Pierce's son used the fax line to set up training sessions for the Hull Volunteer Fire Department.
The Pierce-Mattox conflict heated up on June 5, when the county Republican party gathered at the county government complex to discuss ousting Pierce from the party.
Two sheriff's deputies were called to the complex after Mattox refused admission to the meeting room to many of those on hand, including Pierce and her supporters. The recall chairman announced that the meeting would be rescheduled to take place "in private at a private location."
This angered the crowd, with several shouting their objections.
The attempt to kick Pierce out of the party was soon dropped, but the conflicts between the two continued.
Madison County Superior Court Judge George Bryant issued a temporary restraining order in late June against those seeking Pierce's recall.
"He (Bryant) agreed that this nonsense about the meetings wasn't sufficient," said Pierce's attorney Jeff Rothman.
Along with the restraining order, Pierce filed a libel suit against Mattox for allegedly uttering and publishing false statements meant to vilify her.
"Mattox's campaign against (Pierce) is calculated to injure (Pierce's) reputation and expose her to public hatred, contempt and ridicule," said Rothman. "Mattox should be required to pay actual and punitive damages to (Pierce)."
That same week, Pierce filed a contempt order against Nash, claiming that the chairman failed to follow the judge's orders from the suit with the commissioners.
Pierce contended that Nash continued to hire county employees without board approval, refused to comply with courthouse security measures adopted by the commission and failed to turn over materials he possessed in relation to his former position as county treasurer. The judge ruled that the chairman should not carry that title.
Nash said Pierce was "poking at a carcass to raise a stink." He said he followed the law.
"I have gone out of my way to stay straight," Nash said. "I want to go on with county business."
Also in June, Mattox reported to police that District 3 recall signs across from Diamond Hill Grocery, on Piedmont Road and on Glenn Carrie Road were vandalized, with someone covering the name of "Patsy Pierce" with a large strip of plywood painted green with Mattox's name stenciled in white letters.
Mattox theorized that "it's got to be a Patsy Pierce supporter" who vandalized the signs.
Pierce said she had no idea who tampered with the signs, saying she would never stoop to the level of vandalism.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he (Mattox) did it," said Pierce.
Soon after, Mattox filed a libel suit against Pierce for the comment that he may have defaced the signs himself and for allegedly libelous statements by Pierce on a flier posted on a bulletin board in the county administrative offices.
"Should Mrs. Pierce be allowed to get away with abusing the power of her office and the power of the courts against me, there will be no one immune from the same kind of unjust treatment," Mattox wrote in a letter to the Journal.
Mattox also asked that the recall hearings be moved out of Madison County and Judge William F. Grant decided to do just that in August.
Though there were several showdowns between the two, Pierce wasn't Mattox's lone adversary this year. Mattox filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission in August. The commission found probable cause on allegations that Clark:
·accepted an illegal contribution by an agency of government (the nearly $20,000 in legal fees in defense of a recall effort).
·failed to file campaign contribution disclosures on funds received in connection with the recall defense.
·failed to disclose all campaign contributions received in 1998.
Mattox aimed to force Clark to pay back the money he received from the county in defense of his recall effort.
Clark's father, Louie, filed his own complaint with the Ethics Commission this year, claiming that his son's recall group failed to file proper financial disclosures with local authorities. The commission levied $225 in late filing fees against the recall group.
The elder Clark said Mattox's action against his son was "another form of harassment."
"I wish they'd leave Ken alone," he said.


Top political story of the year

BY ZACH MITCHAM
New commissioner Bruce Scogin said he was fed up with taxpayers footing the bill for legal squabbles between county officials. And after a lengthy fight for a policy change to limit commissioners' power to sue, Scogin finally got his way this year.
The county's adoption of a new legal fee policy is this year's "top political story."
Under the new policy, passed by the commissioners in September, county officials filing suit over job-related matters will have their attorney's fees paid by county taxpayers under two conditions - if ordered by a judge or approved by the commissioners by a majority vote.
Scogin and District 4 commissioner Melvin Drake voted for that change at the Sept. 13 BOC meeting. But commissioner Bill Taylor voted "no" along with Nelson Nash and Patsy Pierce.
However, when Scogin brought the legal fee issue up again two weeks later, saying it was a matter that was "not going to go away," Taylor changed his vote. He said his approval of the new policy was not a change of heart, but a decision reached after matters were clarified.
"It wasn't that I changed my mind," said Taylor. "I wanted to vote for it (Scogin's proposal) before. But there were stipulations I didn't understand. I talked with the county attorney and he explained things. There's too much money spent in the county (on litigation) that's useless. And this is something that will help stop that."
Commissioners Nash and Pierce said the change will undermine the power of the board.
"I want the right to file a suit against the chairman and have it paid for," said commissioner Nash. "If he doesn't carry out his duties, I want the authority to enforce it."
Said Pierce: "This (the new legal fee policy) would be like a sole commissioner government. If you can't enforce policies, why have a board?"
Pierce, along with former commissioners Ken Clark and Jack Fortson, sued county commission chairman Wesley Nash in 1997, claiming the chairman was leaving the board out of decision-making on personnel and fiscal matters. A judge ruled in favor of the commissioners last year and that ruling was upheld on appeal several months ago. Pierce recently filed a contempt order against Nash, claiming the chairman is not following the judge's orders.
Fees for attorneys and mediators for that suit have cost the county approximately $41,000 over the past two years.



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