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Newton County board of commissioners approves new county manager Harold Cooper's contract, start date
Harold Cooper
Harold Cooper (Special | Henry County government)

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County Board of Commissioners passed approval of newly appointed county manager Harold Cooper’s contract Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote, while citizens got the chance to get hear some of the details of Cooper’s contract for the first time. 

After county Human Resources director Amanda Shoemaker provided highlights of Cooper’s proposed contract, and after a series of questions raised by Commissioner Alana Sanders who sought clarification on several matters, Commissioner Stan Edwards voted to approve Cooper’s contract with Commissioner Demond Mason providing a second. 

Commissioner J.C. Henderson raised a substitute motion to table the decision to provide more time to work out some of the questions Sanders raised. After Sanders seconded the substitute motion, Commissioners Ronnie Cowan, Edwards and Mason all denied the substitute motion and then subsequently voted 3-2 for the original motion that officially approved Cooper’s contract. 

One of the chief concerns raised by Sanders was Cooper’s two-year contract duration which she said was a departure from the one-year starts that previous county managers Sims and Lloyd Kerr. 

Under the approved contract, Cooper’s start date would be Monday May 8, 2023 with the end of the two-year term coming May 7, 2025 with an annual base salary of $150,000 accompanied by eligible cost of living increases equivalent to those given to other county employees. 

Contractural concerns

“I think it should go to a one year term,” Sanders said. “And then we should evaluate and go from there. Considering the issues we had with our interim county manager (Jarvis) Sims who barely came to work.” 

Other highlights of Cooper’s contract include county-paid health insurance premium as well as the county paying twice the amount of his base salary for life insurance along with short term disability coverage. Cooper will accrue 160 hours per year as well as 80 hours of sick leave each year. If separated from the county, he’ll be compensated for accrued annual leave. 

Additionally, the county will provide Cooper with either a vehicle or a vehicle allowance of $500 per month, based on his choice. Shoemaker also mentioned matching retirement and that he’d be considered 100% vested from his start date. 

Before Cooper’s contract was approved, several individuals spoke up in support of Cooper during the first batch of citizen’s comments — people who are residents of Newton County and who’ve been acquainted with Cooper long before his appointment. 

“I’ve known Harold Cooper for quite some time,” said District 4 resident Calvin Horton. “And I feel comfortable that he is very capable of handling the responsibilities that will be put upon him. His skill set and his background, all of the boxes check off on Mr. Cooper. He’s a caring person, and I’m very excited about him becoming my county manager.” 

Cooper's support

Newton County resident Alfred Dow had similar sentiments of Cooper, whom he says he’s know for three years. 

“Some of the skills he has are transferable, not just for the leadership of this county, but for, in fact, every profession he would entail,” Dow said. 

He also echoed some of the sentiments from Commissioner Edwards’ initial comments about Cooper possessing a favorable “demeanor.” 

“You want someone that’s skilled, thoughtful and someone with the right temperament,” Dow said. “One of the greatest characteristics I’ve witnessed about Mr. Cooper is I’ve never seen him inappropriate. He’s never flat-footed. He’s always going to have the right temperament to listen fairly, judicially and evenly for the citizen.” 

That said, while Sanders cast a vote for Lucinda Babers to be the appointee in the previous BOC meeting, she prefaced her concerns with Cooper’s contract by saying those concerns had nothing to do with Cooper personally. 

“I don’t know him personally,” Sanders said. “My sole responsibility is to Newton County because I’m an elected official. It’s not to an individual a person, this is the county that’s my main responsibility. I went over contracts in detail with every county manager that’s come before, [with] Mr. Kerr and Mr. Sims.” 

Sanders said the two-year contract troubled her because of concerns regarding Sims’ work ethic that Sanders said came from county chairman Marcello Banes himself among others. 

“It concerns me because of our previous situation,” Sanders said. “And this is not coming at your Mr. Chair. But you mentioned to us that our previous interim county manager barely showed up for work, and I heard that from our employees as well. We normally do one year [contracts]. Giving someone two years out of the gate, and we just came from issues with our previous interim county manager coming to work, that’s my complete concern.

“I believe it should go to a one year term and we can go from there. I believe we have to put the best interests of the county at heart. It has nothing to do with the individual.” 

Other issues Sanders raised were being able to know when a county manager is utilizing and reporting their vacation days, if Cooper will be able to have an option for remote work, whether or not Cooper’s vehicle would be a new one or the same that was given to Sims. 

Meanwhile, Dow, perhaps made the most succinct statement of the evening as far as Cooper supporters go — one that sought to assuage fears that Cooper was ill-equipped to lead the county through unprecedented growth and change. 

“He’s going to make the most thoughtful decision,” Dow said. “Not only for the present time of Newton County, but for its future.”