County discusses problems with organizational structure

COVINGTON — Commissioners took the first step in reviewing the county’s organizational structure with the help of Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s Government Relations Manager Dave Wills.

During a brief work session held Tuesday, Wills presented the inconsistencies he found in Newton’s enabling act and county manager job description.

The highest concern to the commissioners was the uncertainty of who has the power to hire and fire county employees: the chairman or county manager.

Wills noted the organizational charter says the chair has the power to hire and fire employees of the road and bridge department and hire and fire other county employees with approval of the majority of the Board. However, the county manager’s job description states the position supervises operations and staff of county departments but makes recommendations to the chair on hiring and firing employees.

“I haven’t seen another system set up like this. In about 120 counties in Georgia, managers have the power to hire and fire,” Wills said. “To whom do the employees salute? Is it the manager, board or chairman? That needs to be clarified.”

Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who requested in January the organizational charter be discussed, agreed there’s a lot of duplication of responsibilities.

“There’s not a clear picture of who’s accountable at the end of the day,” Schulz said. “Tonight we need to look at the assistant county manager position and the hiring/firing issue because it goes to the heart of his position.”

To put in place a successor plan for when County Manager John Middleton retires in September, County Transportation Director Tom Garrett was hired as the assistant county manager to be an understudy of Middleton.

Wills said the commissioners need to reach a decision on the organizational chart that provides clarity for not only employees so they can know to whom to report, but also the citizens, who have the ultimate authority by casting votes.

“It would be fair to Mr. Garrett to clarify this relationship so there’s no issues in the future,” Wills said. “The decision you make should also have clarity to the citizens. They have ultimate authority, they cast the votes and your choices need to be made for their benefit.”

Commissioners agreed that the county chairman position is the only county-wide elected seat and that position should be the head of government.

“If people elect someone then that person should be head of government,” Commissioner John Douglas said. “We can’t have a double chain of command. We can’t get around the fact that if we respect the voice of the people, if we have a chief executive of the county, then that person should be the authority. The chairman should be at the top of the pyramid.”

Schulz and Commissioner Lanier Sims agreed there needs to be a full-time county chairman, elected by the citizens, but also a professional administrative officer in order to provide consistency during the political turnover.

Other inconsistencies Wills found were that the board prepares the budget, according to the enabling act, and the county manager works with the finance director to develop an annual budget.

Wills questioned why the chairman, who is the only county-wide elected member, is left out of the budget development process and votes only to break a tie, limiting the the influence on the budget.

Commissioners decided to schedule another, more extensive meeting with Wills to further discuss how to resolve the inconsistencies in the organizational charter.

Despite the decision to further their charter discussions, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the assistant county manager job description position that Garrett currently holds.

Schulz said she wanted to table this decision for two weeks in order to review the charter and clarify the administrative role. Douglas put a subsequent motion on the table that the description be approved as written with an end date of Dec. 31, 2014.

Commissioners also approved the $82,316 salary of the assistant county manager position, which is a midpoint between Garrett’s transportation director position and Middleton’s county manager position.