Oden Editorial - 07/31/09
Oden's actions self-serving

Commission Chairman Richard Oden has borne his share of criticism during his first seven months in office - some deserved and some perhaps not-so-well deserved. At times the criticism has been quite harsh, but in our view citizens have a right to express their opinions about the actions of their elected officials, how their government is run, and how their tax dollars are spent. Those who seek to represent the rest of us should be held to a higher level of accountability.

We're certain that Oden understands that when an elected official comes into office and makes sweeping changes, as he has done, that official must be willing to accept the dissatisfaction among some that is sure to follow those actions. The Rockdale Citizen has reported on the changes Oden has brought about in our county government. We've watched and waited - as we are certain many county residents have - to see if his management decision-making will be based on what is best for the county or what best serves his political interests.

Sadly, his actions indicate the latter to be the case.

It has been a long time since we've seen such a patently self-serving act on the part of an elected official as the one Oden orchestrated Tuesday with the hiring of a new finance director for the county. Oden's preferred candidate didn't meet the qualifications for the job as set forth in the county's job description, so he engineered a change in the job description to fit the candidate.

Oden claims to be a seasoned manager from the private sector, but any manager worth their salt knows it's a bad idea to tailor a job to fit a candidate, particularly when you are reducing the qualifications for the job. It sets the worst possible precedent for other employees and guarantees hiring problems down the road. In addition, what does this say to the qualified candidates who applied for the job and were turned down? How will Rockdale be viewed by top candidates in the future when we need to fill another critical position? Will they bother to apply?

Aside from the problems inherent with this hiring process, Oden also apparently violated Georgia's Open Meetings law by presenting changes to the job description for discussion in a closed meeting - which is clearly not one of the exceptions allowed under the law. Commissioner JaNice Van Ness refused to vote for the job description modification, saying she saw it for the first time in the closed meeting. Commissioner Oz Nesbitt had no such reservations, and we are wondering if he had an opportunity to discuss the changes with Oden prior to their presentation in the closed meeting.

Perhaps Oden's appointed county attorney should have a brief refresher for the chairman on what is required of elected officials under Georgia's Open Meetings law. Oden should be reminded that the people's business is to be conducted in public, with very few and very specific exceptions. And he should be reminded that, in Rockdale County, two commissioners meeting together to discuss county business constitutes a quorum, and that meeting must then be advertised and open to the public.