Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Keith Ellis lost at least some of his power Tuesday night, as the board voted to strip him of his control of the county’s vehicle fleet and engineering department.
Control of the two departments will pass to County Manager Tom Garrett, who was formally named to the position Tuesday after former manager John Middleton retired Friday.
Commissioner Levie Maddox made the motion, adding that he believes a “strong manager should have the responsibility and leadership in our county operations.”
“Recent actions and events should prove to the board of commissioners that the chairman and the board should set the vision of the community, while a strong manager should professionally run operations,” Maddox said. “I believe we need to clean up and strengthen the language in our charter and move to a stronger manager form of government.”
The motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner J.C. Henderson voting against the redistribution of power. The move essentially reduces Ellis' power to those granted by the county's charter.
The county’s charter contains “enabling legislation” placing the county’s roads under the purview of the chairman, Commissioner Nancy Schulz said. She asked county attorney W. Thomas Craig if moving the fleet and engineering department to the manager would impact that.
Craig said the two are separate in the county’s budget, so moving them to Garrett’s control could be legally done without violating the county’s charter.
But Craig advised caution: “It’s a complicated matter.”
No matter, the commissioners voted immediately after that, stripping the departments from Ellis’ control.
The commission then voted to eliminate the assistant county manager’s position that opened up when Garrett was promoted. That decision was unanimous.
Ellis said being “stripped of some power tonight” is “fine, that’s the way the board feels. A few weeks ago, I came to conclusion it was really my questioning the 2050 Plan that had some people upset at me. I asked (planners) to please make this plan something that’s palatable to the citizens. Every day I got the same replies — they weren’t able to do it.
“I made some political enemies in my first year and a half … I made a lot of mistakes. I’ll try to do better. I know my shoulder will take to the plow tomorrow.”