COVINGTON, GA (WXIA) – Tommy Craig was Newton County Attorney for 39 years, but Tuesday night, he lost his job.
Controversy surrounded Craig for years, but especially after a recent series of 11Alive Investigations. Just one week since our latest report, and Tuesday night, the county board voted to hire a new in-house counsel.
11Alive's first report questioned how Craig was able to bill Newton County more than a million dollars a year in legal fees. But that was just a start of the digging.
While Craig made millions of taxpayer dollars, he was spending millions more on a reservoir project for the county that is now shut down. Last week, we reported that the project took 4,000 acres away from Newton County families – and that, for many, was simply the last straw.
For years, Newton County citizens have said their county board is ignoring all the signs – signs pointing to County Attorney Tommy Craig.
"When you look at what our county is spending on legal fees, it's an exorbitant amount," said one taxpayer.
Craig billed the county over $1 million a year – and has also spent $22 million in county money over the last 15 years leading a reservoir project that is now dead in the water.
"This is a battle that's been going on forever, and we need new representation in this county," said another taxpayer.
Before Tuesday's board meeting, many citizens made their signs impossible to ignore.
Before the meeting, as protesters against Craig stood in front of the courthouse, there were only two supporters with signs in favor of Craig. Neither one was in favor of talking with 11Alive's Catie Beck about it.
"Why do you think Craig is a good county attorney?" Beck asked one of the two protesters.
"I don't have no comment," he responded.
"You're holding a sign with his name on it, and you can't answer that question?" Beck asked.
"I don't have no comment," he said again.
The Craig supporter couldn't even tell us where the printed signs came from.
"Who made those signs?" Beck asked.
"I don't know," the supporter said.
"You don't know who made the sign you're holding?" Beck asked.
"No, I don't," the supporter replied.
The two protesters left before the meeting started. But other citizens, some who had been standing since noon, came to face the board.
"I've been here all my life, and I care about Newton County," another protester said. "I care about Newton County. We fought this 20 years ago and Tommy Craig is still here."
Craig got a chilly reception as he entered the chamber and took his seat. Business went on as usual until the vote came up. With little discussion, a vote to hire a new county attorney came up and with the bang of a gavel, Craig was out of a job.
Craig was able to say a brief thank you to the board before making an immediate exit, leaving his chair – and his job – open.
"Thirty-nine years I've been waiting for this," one person said. "Thirty-nine years!"
"I think we've won a battle, now we've got to go win the war," said another. "I think that was a good start."
It seems now the focus for many in the crowd has shifted from an ending to a beginning.
The other part of Tuesday night's vote was to move all of the county's legal records out of Craig's personal law offices and into the county's government building. They plan to post the position of county attorney for applicants on Friday.