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Posted: January 9, 2014 10:00 p.m.

County Manager Middleton to retire in late '14

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County Manager John Middleton announced Tuesday he will retire in late 2014 after a 14-year career with Newton County.

Middleton made the public announcement after being unanimously reappointed by the Board of Commissioners.

"I want to thank you all for your confidence and kind words and support. I’m pleased to be reappointed as the county manager, but over this past month, we’ve had discussions with you all individually and privately. This will be my final year serving Newton County," Middleton said.

"We still have a lot to get done this year. I’m excited to be a part of the strategic plan (and) work on a two-year budget plan that will make an impact for us, also with the succession planning this year. And that would be before I implement my sunset retirement plan this fall."

Following the announcement, Commissioner Nancy Schulz made a motion to hire Dave Wills, a local government expert for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), to hold two work sessions in February to examine all of the possible government types the county could choose before moving forward to find a replacement for Middleton. The motion was approved unanimously.

Middleton was first hired as finance director in 2000 and promoted to administrative officer in 2001; he was given more authority and
responsibility when the board appointed him county manager in November 2011. That move also removed authority from the county chairman’s position, which some residents felt at the time should not have been done without a public vote.

Prior to Newton County’s move to a county manager form of government, the county manager and chairman jointly oversaw some departments; after the change in government, the county manager oversaw all departments, while the chairman was only placed in charge of roads and bridges, a responsibility stated in the county charter.

The two positions still work together on issues, and Chairman Keith Ellis now oversees engineering and fleet management, which were previously technically under the county manager.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he felt the chairman should guide the board through the process because he is elected in a county-wide vote.

"Because up until a few years ago, we made a decision to have a county when the power was in the chairman’s hands," Henderson said, "I think we need to sit down as a board and see if we want to change it."

Commissioner John Douglas said he believes some changes need to be made, and "it’s the time to examine how we do business here." But Douglas said if any changes need to be made to the charter, that decision must be made by the state legislature, not the county commission. Since the Georgia General Assembly, which only convenes once a year, is planning to end its session earlier this year, possibly by mid- or late-March, Douglas said the county has to hurry if it wants to make a change in 2014.

Henderson asked for County Attorney Tommy Craig’s opinion, and Craig said the board bringing in Wills and considering all of its options seemed like a "reasonable solution."

Government structures in Georgia are quite varied. Some counties have both a full-time elected chairman and county administrators or managers -- generally the difference is that a manager has hiring and firing authority, where an administrator does not, Wills said previously. Other counties have only a part-time chairman, and some smaller counties have only a full-time chairman and no manager.

Newton County first hired a county administrator in 1985, Craig said previously. Craig was also reappointed as county attorney, and Jackie Smith was reappointed as county clerk.

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