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Newton board rejects plan to hire interim county manager
Attorney says hiring former recreation director without chairman submitting candidates could violate charter
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 began moving toward hiring a new county manager to replace Lloyd Kerr Tuesday night but narrowly rejected a plan to hire a former recreation director for the job beginning Jan. 2.

In addition, the county chairman recommended that commissioners vote to keep Kerr in the job as part of a one-year transition plan in part because of a dearth of qualified candidates and the need to begin the 2023 budget process by February.

Board of Commissioners members voted 3-2 against a motion by Commissioner J.C. Henderson to hire former county recreation commission director Ternard Turner as interim county manager beginning Jan. 2 until a permanent manager could be hired in six to 12 months.

Commissioners voted after hearing County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter say the action would not comply with the county government's operating charter that requires the chairman to submit a list of candidates for a majority of Board members to make an appointment.

Henderson pointed out it was Jaugstetter's "opinion" that an interim manager be named according to the process in the charter but Henderson failed to sway commissioners Ronnie Cowan, Stan Edwards and Demond Mason who voted against the move.

Commissioner Alana Sanders said afterward on Facebook Live she voted to hire Turner to be an interim manager Tuesday night because she wanted to be proactive about filling a top county government position that could be left vacant after Jan. 1.

She also said the county charter does not address how an interim county manager should be appointed.

"I did not want to leave the county wide open," Sanders said.

Turner was hired in November 2018 to lead the former Newton County Recreation Commission, which was a semi-autonomous board that operated the Parks and Recreation Department. 

The Georgia General Assembly dissolved it in June 2020 at the request of the Board of Commissioners after the county deemed as illegal bonuses totaling $28,000 the Recreation Commission approved for some employees in December 2019. 

Turner remained as recreation director under Kerr's supervision after the commission was dissolved but resigned in August 2020.

Commissioners must appoint someone to fill the county manager position by Jan. 1 when Kerr's contract ends. 

However, the time required to find qualified candidates, interview them and choose a finalist could stretch into months, during which the government would be without someone running the day-to-day operations as required in the charter.

Banes, in a memo to Board members, said he had discussed the position with Association County Commissioners of Georgia officials and "been advised that the pool of qualified candidates ... is very small."

He said he recommended a transition plan be put in place that includes extending Kerr's contract for one year and either hiring someone for a new deputy manager position to replace Kerr in January 2023, or opening the search for Kerr's replacement no later than Jan. 15, 2022.

Banes said the county manager has myriad upcoming responsibilities including beginning work in February to formulate a 2023 budget and continuing negotiations with the five cities over division of Local Option Sales Tax proceeds — among other duties.

"Based upon our form of government, without a county manager in place, the county's operations will not have any supervision," Banes wrote. "To expect to have a qualified candidate for the county manager position or an interim county manager in place by Jan. 2, 2022, ready to continue the daily duties of Lloyd Kerr is not realistic."

The Board on Nov. 2 voted 3-2 not to renew Kerr's contract. Banes said he planned to veto the action but Jaugstetter said the veto would not overrule state law requiring a governing body's majority vote to renew a contract. 

Kerr has served as county manager since 2016 and his contract was renewed in 2019.

Jaugstetter has declined public comment on his interpretation of the state law’s effect on Kerr’s contract.