A majority of county commissioners reached a consensus at a work session Monday night to have the county attorney draw up a job description for a county manager position, but not before Chairman Kathy Morgan voiced strong opposition.
Commissioners Mort Ewing, J.C. Henderson and Tim Fleming informally agreed - votes are not permitted in work sessions - to create a job description for the administrative officer that specifies that employee report only to the Board of Commissioners. Presently, the job description states that position reports to the board and the chair.
According to County Attorney Tommy Craig, the change in reporting structure from the chair to the board requires by Georgia law a change in title to county manager.
He disagreed with Morgan on whether that constituted a change in the form of government. Craig said the Supreme Court has ruled on at least three separate occasions that it does not. Morgan said it does according to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Craig responded if that's the case "they are ill informed."
"I also have that opinion from two attorneys," Morgan said.
"And they are ill informed also," Craig responded.
"So your opinion is the right opinion?" Morgan asked.
"I'm right more than I'm wrong," he said.
Morgan said changing to a county manager dilutes the authority of chairman bestowed by the county charter and changes the job description voters elected her to fulfill. The charter states the chairman is in charge of day to day operations of the county, with the administrative officer assisting with various operations and reporting to the chair and the board. Morgan said she would only support a change to a county manager form of government if the voters make that choice. She said a county manager would decrease accountability to voters by making a non-elected official responsible for the day to day operations and encouraging alliances, with that official focused on keeping at least three board members happy in order to stay employed.
"I have a real issue about balancing power, checks and balances…I also am a proponent of voters' right to choose," she said. Morgan said if the board chooses to pursue the matter, a committee should be formed to educate citizens, consultants should be hired to advise the board and the matter should be brought before the voters.
But Ewing said he wants reporting limited to the board, stating that during the last three years - Morgan's term - the administrative officer position has "not been allowed to function." He said in the prior eight years of his term, a balanced budget and SPLOST proposals were presented without delay or discord. He said changing the job description without changing the reporting structure would not solve the problem. Henderson added he asked for information during the budget process that was never provided. Morgan said she has never restricted the administrative officer from providing information to commissioners.
Morgan claimed Administrative Officer John Middleton resigned in July - his last day is December 15 - due to the board's failure to heed his advice and raise the millage rate during the budget process.
"We were given duties to do our job and I'm doing the job as elected by the voters of Newton County and I'm trying to understand why the board does not want us to function as the charter indicated and as elected by the voters of Newton County, the same voters who elected you. I have not restricted Mr. Middleton from doing his job," she said. "He did his job and this board did not accept the budget prepared by our professional manager."
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