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Rockdale BOC portraits not the same as Vaughn's, some say

CONYERS -- Members of the local American Bar Association sought to clarify that other portraits hanging in the Rockdale County Courthouse were not paid for using county funds, following comment by County Commission Chairman Richard Oden that suggested otherwise.

Retired clerk of courts Joanne Caldwell, Rockdale County State Court Judge Nancy Bills and others contacted the Citizen in recent days and said the portrait of former Superior Court Judge Clarence Vaughn was paid for through donations from the Vaughn family, the community and members of the Bar Association of Rockdale County.

"I can personally attest that not one penny of taxpayer money was spent on his portrait," Bills wrote in an email response to questions. "It was all private donations from the community and bar association and Clarence's wife."

Bills added that money is being raised to commission a portrait of current Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation, who will retire at the end of 2012. She said no public funds will be used for the Nation portrait either.

The comments came after a Sept. 30 story in the Rockdale Citizen reported the county was installing photo portraits of Oden and commissioners Oz Nesbitt and JaNice Van Ness in various county offices, including two sets near each of the public entrances of the courthouse.

An open records request by the Rockdale Citizen showed that seven sets of the portraits were purchased and framed along with brass name plates at a total cost of $2,217.80.

Oden defended his decision to purchase and install the portraits and said they were part of a community outreach effort to "put a face with a name" of the elected officials.

Oden added the practice of having elected officials' portraits hanging in government buildings was a common practice like the picture of Vaughn in the courthouse.

The comparison struck some people the wrong way, and they were quick to point out the funding differences after the story was published.

The Vaughn portrait was dedicated on Dec. 14, 1998, during swearing in ceremonies of elected county officials at the courthouse. Vaughn, who was retiring from the bench after 16 years, was in attendance.

The Vaughn portrait currently hangs in Nation's courtroom.

In other news, an open records request by Sam Smiley showed labor costs for the BOC portraits were $247.80. The labor included eight employee hours at $14.85 per hour to hang the portraits for $118.80 and four hours spent on the project by a county engineer totaling $129.

The labor brings the total cost of the BOC portraits to $2,465.60.

County maintenance workers placed a set of the portraits at the Administration and Services building, BOC office, Tax Assessors office, Human Resources office and two sets in the courthouse.