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Posted: June 30, 2010 12:30 a.m.

29 employees laid off due to county budget

Sheriff yet to make final cuts

The new, leaned down structure of Newton County is beginning to take shape, as 29 county employees were laid off, including three prominent department heads.

County Engineer Kevin Walter, Planning and Development Director Marian Eisenberg and Water Resources Director Karl Kelley were among the employees cut, because their three departments are being consolidated into other departments, and because their experience and longevity made them among the highest paid employees. In addition to Walter, Assistant County Engineer Vincent Passariello was also cut, leaving the county with no engineers.

Administrative Assistant John Middleton shed a little more light on the restructuring this week, saying that the county would be forming a Department of Development Services, which will combine the planning and zoning and geographic information systems departments.

"We’re actually looking to maximize the use of GIS in planning process and link GIS with the planning effort," Middleton said Monday. "We feel it’s a huge untapped tool. We’ve converted some software and seen the power of what we can do when linked up with the GIS department, from a planning point of view."

He said the GIS software helps with tasks like mapping out stormwater flows and helping determine where detention ponds should be located. The county is hoping to use the software’s advanced mapping functions to better tie together its numerous comprehensive plans, like its transportation plan and 2050 Build Out Plan.

"We want to link it all together," he said.

In addition, the county has placed the water resources and engineering departments underneath the public works department, and is planning to hire a new position of engineering director to find solutions to internal engineering problems and work with outside consulting firms, Middleton said.

He said based on his conversations with Chairman Kathy Morgan, the engineering director will also participate in an asset management analysis of roads and equipment in the county. Kelley, who is a civil engineer, confirmed that Morgan had asked both him and Walter to apply for the position when it becomes available in six months, after the department restructuring is complete.

Morgan could not be reached for further detail, as she is out of town on vacation.

Kelley said he would be interested in applying for the position and felt it was similar to a position he held in Rockdale County, which was Director of Public Services and Engineering. He said in 1998, Rockdale County did a major consolidation, combining departments like planning and development, businesses licenses, code enforcement, public works, fleet services and even animal control. Kelley said he was brought in to raise morale and build cohesiveness among employees who work situations had been greatly changed. He said he felt he did that job well and hopes that would qualify him to undertake another similar umbrella department director position.

In his previous position as water resources director, Kelley was in charge of overseeing erosion control, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, stormwater control and drinking water production at the county’s two production plants. He said much of his time was taken up having to write the numerous reports required by state and federal regulations. He said one concern about the reduction of employees in his department is the fact the county’s growth in the next census is likely to push them into the next level of regulations, which will require even more paperwork than it had previously.

Eisenberg had served as planning director since February 2004, when she was recruited from Fulton County, because of the rapid growth taking place. She said at the time, the planning department wasn’t very sophisticated and the county was trying to modernize its zoning ordinances. Those first couple of years, she spent time putting the department together, including revising record keeping and creating personnel policies.

More recently, her main duty was to interpret the zoning ordinances and to amend them as needed. She also did training and organized and supervised her department. She would also fill in as zoning administrator whenever the county was left without one, such as recently. She essentially oversaw all development regulations, zoning ordinances, sign ordinances, solid waste and litter ordinances and business and occupational tax ordinances.

She said it was tough to say goodbye to the many good friends she had made, but when the county starts merging departments, in doesn’t make sense to hold on to all of the former department heads.

Eisenberg said unlike many employees, she actually signed a contract with the county because she was recruited; therefore she had a severance package.

Walter could not be reached for comment. The county will continue to work toward providing its citizens with the best possible services, without the help of these long-time leaders.

Sheriff Ezell Brown has not yet laid off any employees for FY 2011, as he continues to scour the budget to find any non-personnel related cuts he can make. Although he was expected to have to make 22 cuts, he said Tuesday he believes he will be able to save a few of those jobs. He said some outside vendors have even offered to reduce costs to help save jobs.

"It’s very difficult to work along side individuals for more than 30 years and not fight for their jobs," Brown said.

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