As Newton County's government is transitioning to a county manager form, Chairman Kathy Morgan continues to investigate recourse - including the possibility of a lawsuit - to restore full administrative oversight to the chairman as called for in the county's charter.
Under the new organizational chart, approved by a 3-2 vote of the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, the county manager will directly oversee all departments and operations, except for the roads and bridges department, and will report only to the board of commissioners, not the chairman.
"Yes, it has been necessary for me to hire my own outside counsel with my own funds to seek legal advice not available through the county attorney's office. I am investigating the potential for a suit against the perpetrators for invalidating the county charter, throwing it aside as if it were yesterday's newspaper," Morgan said in a Friday email, responding to questions. "(The charter) is a legal document endorsed by action of the Georgia State Legislature and, yet, three men and a compliant attorney think they know better. I must admit I was not shocked by the county attorney's participation in this tawdry action designed to deny the public rightful input."
The creation and empowerment of a county manager is allowed under Georgia code section 36-5-22, which has been upheld by three Georgia Supreme Court cases.However, Morgan believes the creation of a county manager represents a fundamental change in the form of government, which generally must be voted on and approved by the Georgia General Assembly via new local legislation.
"I believe the action by three commissioners to be a direct violation of the implied contract between the board of commissioners and the county's 100,000 citizens," Morgan said. "I intend to honor my contract. I know who hired me; I have not served in office so long that I have forgotten that I work for the people of Newton County. I am still the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners as elected by the people of Newton County and I intend to continue to perform those duties until my term expires Dec. 31, 2012."
When asked how her day-to-day duties will change, Morgan said she did not know, nor did she know if the county attorney, clerk or manager will respond to requests from the chairman, because all three report to the board.
"I do know that the enabling legislation defines specific powers to the chairman such as the administrative officer. The chairman also has the responsibility for hiring and firing employees, approving purchase orders, signing checks, contracts, roads and bridges, etc.," Morgan said.
Morgan said the chairman is also the designated county representative to the Transportation Air Quality Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and serves on the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, the Porter Trust, the Newton County Board of Health and the Newton County Tomorrow Board of Directors, among others. Meetings and coordination take up much of her schedule, she said.
The chairman's salary is set under an act that was approved by the Georgia General Assembly; the act also governs the salaries of constitutional officers.
"As outlined above, the duties of the Chairman will still require a full work load; (however), I fully expect the commissioners to file legislation next year to lower the salary of the chairman," Morgan said.
While the chairman will maintain day-to-day oversight of the Roads and Bridges Department, she will not have full oversight of all public works components.
"The commissioners divided the public works department between the county manager and the chairman. The engineering department and fleet management report to the county manager, only the road and drainage crews and sign shop report to the chairman," Morgan said.
Given all of the changes, Morgan said she's unsure whether she'll run for reelection next year.
"It is clear this action intended to isolate the chairman and strip him/her of any authority given by the local legislation and citizens of Newton County. This operational change in our form of government has created more questions than answers at this time. I am sure the conflicting responsibility will bring uncertainty, chaos and confusion. Therefore, this is forcing a hard and difficult review of my personal options," Morgan said. "It will take time to determine these answers, but know this: my commitment to the people of Newton County is still as strong as ever. I believe in democracy, that elected officials serve the people and the voter's right to choose."