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Newton board names two as interim county manager finalists
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County commissioners have named a Washington, D.C., city official and a former Augusta administrator as finalists for the position of interim county manager.

Commissioners on Thursday voted to name Washington deputy mayor Lucinda Babers and former Augusta deputy city administrator Jarvis R. Sims as finalists for the job overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Newton County government.

By state law, the Board of Commissioners now must wait at least 14 days before making a final decision on hiring one of the finalists, which means they must wait until at least Feb. 10.

Babers has worked as Washington’s deputy mayor for operations and infrastructure since March 2019 and serves as first vice chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors, according to information from the D.C. government. 

She also previously served as the director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles and served in management positions at Amtrak, according to information from the D.C. government.

Babers has ties to Georgia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. She also earned a Master of Science degree in business from Johns Hopkins University. 

Sims is a former deputy administrator for the city of Augusta and served as the city’s interim administrator for more than 18 months. 

However, he left in April 2021 after then-new Administrator Odie Donald was hired and said he wanted new deputy administrators, according to the Augusta Chronicle newspaper. 

Sims also was a finalist for city manager of Forest Park in Clayton County in 2021. 

He previously served as manager of capital projects and public safety administrator for the city of East Point.

Sims earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State University, a master’s degree in business administration from Mercer University and an online certification in government digital transformation from Harvard University, according to information from the city of Forest Park.

A committee including Chairman Marcello Banes and County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter chose six applicants for a first round of interviews out of 19 who applied, Jaugstetter said.

They then chose three candidates for commissioners to interview Thursday, said county spokesperson Bryan Fazio. Banes was required to provide at least three candidates to the Board for the position, according to the county charter.

The Board of Commissioners conducted a daylong series of interviews. However, before beginning the interviews Thursday morning, two commissioners said they wanted a change in the interview process recommended by County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders voted not to approve the agenda, as well as the interview session’s proposed format and a motion to enter a closed session that state law allowed them to utilize for a personnel matter.

With District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason absent during the open session, Banes was forced to break three consecutive 2-2 tie votes. 

Banes joined with District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan to approve the format, agenda and closed session to begin the interviews. The chairman can only vote if a motion presented to Board members ends in a tie, according to the county charter. 

Jaugstetter asked commissioners to try to determine at least one finalist.

The attorney said he already had sent all commissioners a series of questions which only Shoemaker would ask each candidate. Jaugstetter said they would be the same series of questions for each candidate “so you have the opportunity to evaluate them on the same footing.” 

But he also recommended any additional questions from commissioners be presented to Shoemaker or the attorney, who would then review them before asking the candidate.

Sanders said she opposed a format in which commissioners would not have chances to directly question any candidates before being asked to choose one. 

“I know there are certain questions we can’t ask so we won’t be liable,” she said.

However, Sanders said commissioners should be able to speak directly with candidates for a position that reports directly to them because it is “one of the most important, non-elected positions in the county,” she said.

Henderson said he also had a problem with the format which he said would not exist in job interviews “in the real world.” 

He also said he wanted Jaugstetter to tell how much he had billed the county to do the work to vet the candidates.

Jaugstetter works for the Cumming-based Jarrard & Davis law firm which the county government has employed for its legal work since 2016. 

Henderson has openly criticized the law firm because of its participation in 2016 in an investigation into allegations about questionable spending at a nonprofit community center Henderson helped operate. The FBI in 2021 said it did not plan to continue the investigation. 

Cowan, however, vocally objected as Henderson asked for the amount Jaugstetter's firm billed the county.

“What is the relevance?” Cowan asked. 

The Board is considering hiring one of the two finalists to replace Lloyd Kerr, who had served as county manager since early 2016 but whose contract was not renewed Jan. 1.

Kerr, who is white, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this month alleging that comments by the Board’s three Black commissioners on social media and to each other indicated they purposely did not renew his contract so they could hire an African American to replace him.

He said the action by Henderson, Mason and Sanders violated federal law barring racial discrimination in employment practices. 

Kerr also alleged his $135,000 salary was not raised to a level comparable to other area county managers, as was required in his contract.

He said the lawsuit could be settled if the county paid him three years’ wages totaling $700,000 plus compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.