COVINGTON - Tuesday night, John Middleton became the first county manager in Newton County history.
Middleton was set to leave his position as administrative officer on Dec. 15, but that changed when he accepted an offer to become county manager and was appointed by the board Tuesday night following a highly contentious discussion.
Middleton said he doesn't think the day-to-day operations of the county will change much with a county manager in charge.
"From my perspective, I don't think it will radically change from past practices. I think on a day-to-day basis, department heads will work through me instead of working through the chair," he said.
Middleton said his work with department heads has diminished over the last few years and since the economic downturn he has focused primarily on financial management. Middleton said that was a concern he discussed with Chairman Kathy Morgan when he resigned in July.
"The county manager role opened the door to working with the departments day-to-day and that's why it appealed to me," he said.
"With my time and experience, I've always enjoyed being able to be involved with what's going on. I think it makes it better on the financial side to be able to relate to that, and on the operations side, you need the finance," he said.
Asked about the potential for conflict between the chairman, who, according to the charter, is still the administrative officer of the county, Middleton said: "I'm sure the chairman and I will find a way to work together."
"I think any time you make a change in a process, in a reporting structure of an organization, you've got to go through a transition phase. I'm sure we'll address it and move forward from there," he said.
Middleton also responded to concerns that the county manager may not be responsive to the electorate.
"In the past as administrative officer, a non-elected office, I've certainly received a number of citizen inquiries and concerns on a fairly frequent basis. I don't see where that will be an obstacle," he said.
Commissioner Mort Ewing said Tuesday night that he approached each commissioner individually about finding a way to keep Middleton on staff, which initiated discussions about the county manager position.
Middleton would not directly comment on Ewing's claims that Middleton resigned because his position "has not been allowed to function."
Middleton did say that, "Each chairman has the opportunity to do things the way they want to do them."
Chairman Kathy Morgan has said the previous administration delegated the authority of the chairman as authorized by the charter while she has taken a more active role.
Morgan has stated that Middleton resigned due to frustrations with the board over the budget process.
"I gave everybody the same message: There were budget concerns. I think everybody on that board had budget concerns," Middleton said, adding that he was disappointed that his proposal to reinstate a portion of employee unpaid holidays was not accomplished.
Middleton said his first goal as county manager is to meet with department heads and hear their needs.
"That role, while it reports to the board, works with department heads and staff to help them get resources and have the means to accomplish what they need to accomplish," he said.