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County could change leadership structure
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Newton County’s future county manager is already in place with transportation director Tom Garrett being appointed to assistant county manager, but what happens when Garrett leaves?

County commissioners and Chairman Keith Ellis seemed to agree at Monday’s strategic planning meeting that the assistant county manager position will be temporary, but officials may change the county’s structure in the future to create more natural candidates for any future county manager opening.

Ellis has been working on a plan for a revised organizational chart for months, and while the idea hasn’t been presented publicly, some details are coming out as the board prepares to bring in an outside expert to evaluate its organizational structure.

Ellis said Thursday the idea is to "have a couple of key members who are capable of handling more than one department at a time; then I think you draw the people who have the ability who can fill those spots from within."

In an interview last week about promoting Garrett to assistant county manager, Commissioner Levie Maddox said he’d like to see a streamlined reporting structure so there are not 16-17 department heads all reporting directly to the county manager.

Instead, Maddox said he thought the board might move toward Ellis’ proposal with four to five department head managers or directors each overseeing multiple departments and reporting to the county manager.

Maddox said the idea wouldn’t be for the managers to make more money, but rather to create a more focused reporting structure.

"The message we want to communicate is we’re focusing on the health of the organization and we want to streamline things. We need to be more aligned in communication and effective and efficient," Maddox said last week.

The system is similar to the one the city of Covington set up in late 2008, when it appointed directors over three divisions: administrative services, public services and public safety. The structure was adopted instead of hiring an assistant city manager and was done to avoid adding a new position to the payroll, according to a story in The News.

Police Chief Stacey Cotton became director of public safety and oversaw the police, fire and city’s share of the Covington-Newton County 911 Center, which is jointly funded. Utility Director Bill Meecham was director of public services, overseeing the public works, electric and gas departments, among others. Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan headed up the administrative services division, which included human resources, planning and zoning, finance and information systems.

The city’s changes added $25,000 to pay for pay raises for division directors and assistant directors. The city had 10 department heads reporting to the city manager at the time.

The county is expected to discuss the idea, along with others, in more depth when Dave Wills, a local government expert for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), leads free work sessions in the coming months to examine all of the possible government types the county could choose.