Commissioners set work session on form of county government

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday agreed to meet next week in a work session to discuss changes in the county’s form of government that were in the works last spring.

Commissioner Levie Maddox made a motion near the end of the board’s meeting requesting a work session to address the form of government. Nancy Schulz seconded the motion.

It led to discussion that became mildly contentious in a session that already had seen plenty of contentiousness in debate over the county’s 2050 Plan.

The form of government issue goes back to November 2011, when the board voted to split administrative power between the chairman and the county manager.

As a result of that action, the current board chairman, Keith Ellis, hires and fires employees, but the county manager is responsible for day-to-day supervision and performance evaluation.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz claims this chairman-manager form of government has created confusion.

“Ever since 2011 it has been confusing for employees. They don’t know who really is in charge,” Schulz said after Tuesday’s board meeting.

The commissioners reached a consensus in an April work session that the top of the chain of command should rest with a full-time county commission chairman. That office is elected countywide.

At that time the consensus among the five board members also was that in administering the county’s business the chairman should be assisted by a full-time county manager.

“We have to reaffirm that consensus,” Schulz said.

However, reaffirmation now may be in question.

In the April work session, the board requested county attorney Tommy Craig to develop a scenario, including a chain-of-command chart, for the board to consider.

The minutes of that work session state, “It was generally agreed that any change should be effective Sept. 1.”

After Maddox’s motion Tuesday, Schulz asked Craig why the scenario document and chart had not been submitted to the board so it could deliberate and enact the suggested changes by Sept. 1.

Craig replied that he thought the consensus had changed, so he decided to delay drafting the documents until the board held another work session.

“Since April I held conversations with various commissioners that made me believe the consensus had evaporated,” Craig said after the meeting.

“Once I said that, the commissioners were nodding in agreement, so I think I made the right decision.”

Craig said after the meeting that once he realized that there still were unanswered questions in the commissioners’ minds, “Why would I waste my time and the county’s money drafting documents that may be rejected by the board?”

During the commissioners’ comments portion of the agenda Tuesday night, board members congratulated long-time County Manager John Middleton, who is retiring, and thanked him for his service. Interim County Manager Tom Garrett, who wears a second hat as transportation director, will take over the permanent job.

The board’s work session on the county form of government will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 6:30 p.m., in the historic county courthouse.