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Commissioners skeptical over DA's request for new positions

District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez
District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez is asking commissioners for $267,00 to create three positions in an anti-gang unit in her office.

A discussion over whether to vote next month on a request to add three staff positions for an anti-gang unit in the District Attorney’s office turned into a larger discussion about staffing and pay.

District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez pitched Athens-Clarke County commissioners on the plan at a work session last week, and lawmakers had another chance to discuss it at their agenda setting meeting last night. Gonzalez is requesting some $267,000 to add a gang prosecutor, investigator, and victim advocate to her staff.

While commissioners seemed broadly supportive of having an assistant district attorney working exclusively on gang cases, many questioned why the DA couldn’t use one of the current open positions in her office to fulfil that function, rather than asking for more funding. At last week’s work session, Gonzalez told commissioners that her office had 17 positions for assistant district attorneys, but only 8 of those were filled.

District 5 Commissioner Dexter Fisher said he didn't support creating a new position when the DA's office had several unfilled attorney jobs.

"With the assistant attorneys that she has open, why can't we use those particular positions to possibly bring in and train those individuals in gang activities?" Fisher asked.

Some commissioners also expressed alarm about a larger issue – understaffing in the DA’s office. Last week, Gonzalez connected her office’s low staffing to a larger nationwide shortage of prosecutors, while also noting that Athens-Clarke County pays prosecutors significantly less than neighboring jurisdictions, making recruiting – and retaining – prosecutors more difficult.

"They can go 30 minutes down the road and get from $20,000 to $30,000 more," Gonzalez said last week. "We start our starting salary for our lawyers at least $10,000 less than the next circuit over."

Last night, District 8’s Carol Myers was one of those concerned about the vacancies in the DA’s office.

"I am just concerned that we, for whatever all the reasons are, and that's probably very complex, we have a district attorneys office that is so minimally staffed here," Myers said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the DA’s request on February 7.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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