COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County’s longest-serving commissioner said other Board members may be considering ways to keep Lloyd Kerr as county manager for some amount of time — but he is not one of them.
J.C. Henderson said he will “see what the other commissioners do” but he will continue to oppose extension of Kerr’s contract after Henderson was part of a 3-2 vote not to extend it on Nov. 2.
“I stand by what I said,” Henderson said. “I will not rescind my vote. I will not vote to extend his contract.”
Kerr said recently that County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter told him Chairman Marcello Banes’ planned veto of the commissioners’ action will not be legally sufficient to extend Kerr’s contract.
State law requires that a majority of a governing body vote to extend a manager’s contract, Kerr said.
Banes had said he wanted the Board to vote again on the contract Dec. 7 but that was before he was told the veto would not affect the Board’s Nov. 2 decision.
Henderson, who was elected in 1996, said he asked Jaugstetter why he did not say anything during the Nov. 2 meeting about the law’s effect.
“I guess he didn’t want to say the chairman was wrong out in the public,” Henderson said.
“That’s one of the reasons I said then — I made no secret — I do not like Jarrard & Davis as our county attorney because when stuff like that comes up they don’t say a word,” Henderson said.
He said such an action leads Board members not to be given accurate information on which to make decisions that can affect the entire county.
Jaugstetter has declined public comment on his interpretation of the state law’s effect on Kerr’s contract.
He is a partner in the Jarrard & Davis law firm that works under contract with Newton and other local governments in Metro Atlanta to provide government legal services.
If Kerr leaves the job at the end of his contract Jan. 1, the county charter requires the chairman to submit at least three candidates and the majority of Board members appoint someone to the job.
“In the event less than three candidates are submitted, all applications shall be provided to the board for review and determination of whether additional candidates should be added to the list provided by the chair,” the charter states.
However, the time required to find qualified candidates, interview them and choose a finalist could stretch into months, during which time the government would be without someone running the day-to-day operations.
Sanders and Mason have not commented publicly since the county attorney gave his opinion.
Kerr said he wants to see what a majority of the Board now wants to do about him remaining past Jan. 1 in the job overseeing day-to-day operations of the county government.
He said Henderson and commissioners Alana Sanders and Demond Mason remain against renewal of the contract.
“At least me staying on — they haven’t said anything to the contrary,” Kerr said.
Kerr’s contract requires the county to pay 75% of his annual salary of $130,000 if he is terminated before the document’s end date.
He said the severance clause in his contract appears to be “part of the rub” for the commissioners who want to terminate him immediately, Kerr said.
“While it appears that they don’t want me, they don’t want to terminate me which would (allow) me to collect the severance package,” he said.
Kerr also said he will not remain in the position without an employment contract because his exact salary and other terms would not be specified in writing.
“Having a contract at this level position is standard. A contract is meant to protect whoever is in the seat from an emotional response, if you will, because of the political nature of the position,” he said.
“There’s probably not an administrator or a manager in this state that does not have some sort of contract agreement that protects them from the whim of the political body,” Kerr said.
“It’s meant that there’s due consideration given to the termination of the administrator or manager,” he said. “It gives you some security … understanding things change and what-not.
“The severance package is to give them pause before something happens to make sure that you’re being discharged for some good cause.”
Kerr was promoted from planning director to interim county manager in January 2016 and named to the permanent position in August 2016. The Board voted unanimously to renew his contract in early 2019.
CLASH ON FUNDS DISTRIBUTION
Kerr has repeatedly clashed with Henderson and Sanders about what they said is Kerr’s lack of action to distribute the county’s share of federal American Rescue Plan funds.
Newton County in May received the first installment — totaling $10.8 million — of two installments of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Henderson and Sanders have been the most vocal about the need for Kerr as chief administrator to devise a plan to distribute the money to qualifying county residents — saying other Metro Atlanta counties have done so.
Kerr has maintained the county needs to wait to see final U.S. Treasury Department guidelines on the money’s distribution because of the possibility any use of the money other than what is in the guidelines could lead the federal government to demand reimbursement.
He said he knew “that I was at odds with the Democratic members, particularly because of the (American Rescue Plan) funds.”
“I anticipated there would be some acrimony over that but I have not received any kind of a negative performance review, there’s been nothing negative in my personnel file,” he said.
“I knew that there had been some strained relations,” Kerr said. “But at the same time … it seems that in doing my job and exercising my job, that seems to cause some point of contention.”
The Treasury Department has issued “interim” final guidelines but not final guidelines, Kerr said.
He said the danger in using interim guidelines is the Treasury Department is changing the requirements constantly.
Kerr also wants to hire a program manager for the distribution in part because of the time-consuming requirement for residents to qualify for the money by showing COVID-19 had harmed them economically, he said.
Henderson said he had a problem with Kerr telling Board members he “did not have time” rather than he was “trying” to find a way to distribute some of the funds.
He said Kerr could have assigned a staff member or hired someone to figure out a distribution plan because some residents need the funding to pay rent and utilities.
“These are trying times,” Henderson said.
He also repeated his desire to have controversial former county attorney Tommy Craig help sort through the legal details of finding a way to distribute the funds.
“(Craig) would have got it done,” Henderson said.
Craig’s law firm represented the county government for parts of five decades before the Board of Commissioners fired him in 2015 amid questions about financial problems with a reservoir project that was later abandoned.
The law firm still provides legal services to the Newton County Sheriff’s and Tax Commissioner’s offices.
Henderson said some may have seen his opposition to Kerr’s rehiring as being part of a personal dislike for the county manager. However, he said he believes he has an employer-employee relationship with Kerr.
He admitted some may disapprove of his stand on the county manager issue but they are free not to re-elect him to a seventh term in 2022.
“If the people in District 4 think I’m doing a bad job, that’s why you run,” Henderson said.