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Commissioners urged to define administrator’s role

POSTED: December 2, 2013 8:44 p.m.

Effingham County commissioners need to clarify discrepancies in who they want to run the day-to-day operations of county government and how that person should go about doing the job, an Association of County Commissioners of Georgia representative said.


Dave Wills, the ACCG government relations manager and a former Webster County commissioner, said the board need to straighten the inconsistencies between its county administrator job description and the employment agreement with David Crawley, who was the last permanent administrator. Crawley left the office in May under pressure.


“You need to have a conversation about what you want your next person to do,” Wills said. “It’s important you all come to a consensus. A county administrator cannot serve two masters. People who work for county government have to know who they answer to. It’s important you agree on a job description and abide by that.”


For instance, Wills pointed out in his presentation to commissioners, the job classification calls for the county administrator position to be non-exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, while the previous employment agreement said it was exempt.


Wills said the job description calls the position an administrator yet reads more like that of a county manager. The classification title spells out that the administrator can hire and fire all subordinate personnel with the exception of a county clerk and an assistant county administrator. The employment agreement said the administrator hires all employees of the board, including department heads, except the clerk, but adds that power can be exercised only with the board’s advice and consent. The advise and consent clause is not part of the job classification, Wills noted.


The administrator’s duties and functions are stated in the employment agreement, including those tasks to be assigned by the board from time to time, but there is nothing in the job description where the duties are spelled out. Wills also said the job description said the administrator will serve as finance director and human resources director, even though the county has people for those two positions.


Wills advised commissioners to create a new employment agreement so the classification title becomes the predominant document.


“It’s important we rectify the inconsistencies between the two documents,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything that can’t be fixed pretty easily.”


“If we get the classification right, then all the employment agreement is is severance and how much you get compensated to do the job,” county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler said.


Under the current structure, there also are 28 department heads and meeting with each department head once a month would require a daily meeting with the head of a department.


“That’s a lot of information,” Wills said.


The county also has a job description for an assistant county administrator, a position that has been vacant since Crawley was promoted from that spot in 2008. Wills said the county administrator should be involved in the assistant county administrator hiring process.


“The administrator will work with the assistant county administrator in a close relationship,” he said. “It can be difficult to work together.”


Wills also said the right candidate for county administrator will be an effective communicator.


“You don’t want to be caught flat-footed,” he said. “A department head can make a decision and not tell an administrator, and even an administrator can get caught flat-footed. I used to be a commissioner. I served for 14 years. You want to have information flowing from the department heads to the county administrator, so the administrator knows what’s going on as well. I don’t know that can happen effectively with 28 department heads.”


Most counties also prefer the administrator form of government over a manager in order to retain responsibility and control, Wills added. He also suggested how commissioners could pursue filling that open county administrator post.


If the county opts to recruit an administrator, using a consultant to guide the process, it could get expensive, Wills said. He also advised commissioners set a timetable in order to give potential candidates a chance to learn about the county and position themselves as choices.


“I’d rather you take more time than make a hasty decision,” he said.


Commissioners also should check with past employers and check references, performing thorough background checks.


“If a leading candidate has been forced out of another city or county government, it does not mean they are not a good manager or administrator,” Wills said.


There are also fewer people moving up or laterally in county government, and there are more candidates for county executive positions coming from the private sector, Wills pointed out.


“I would urge not to push them aside, and they may have skill sets you are looking for,” he said.


Commissioners also can’t make residency a requirement of employment, Wills said. He added that not offering a severance may be a hindrance for someone considering coming on board. The average separation agreement, he said, is for three to six months of pay.


Wills also said nothing requires the commissioners to interview candidates in executive sessions and if they do follow that route, they can name up to three finalists. But they must wait 14 days from naming finalists to make a decision.


“We need to start advertising for someone to fill the position on a permanent basis,” Kessler said. “I think the worst thing we could do is to fill that job with an outline of what’s expected, and whoever is hired doesn’t have a firm understanding of what’s expected of them and the board doesn’t have a good, firm understanding of what’s expected of them and how they’re expected to be held responsible.”

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