At Thursday night’s special called meeting of the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC), District 3 Commission Nancy Schulz made a motion that put a hold on the hiring of a county manager until policies and procedures for hiring executive staff and department heads could be put in place.
Director of Human Resources Keyra Frey had presented policies and procedures outlining the hiring and recruitment process of executive staff to the BOC at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. The presentation also included job descriptions for executive staff — the county manager and staff attorney — and department heads.
The policies and procedures do not affect constitutional officers, which includes the sheriff, county chair and fire chief.
District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox said he had not had time to review the policies. He asked that the vote be postponed to the Jan. 21 meeting of the board.
Frey reminded the board that the county was in the process of recruiting three key staff — the county manager, in-house attorney and fire chief.
Process for hiring county manager furthest along
Schulz made the motion for the hold, or abeyance, in hiring the county manager, at the advice of the county’s legal counsel of Jarrard and Davis Law Firm, she said.
Attorney Megan Morgan, a partner with Jarrard and Davis, explained, “As we described previously, there seemed to be conflict among the staff whether there’s a selection committee in place or if this is an appointed position.”
She said putting the search for the manager in abeyance— a state of temporary disuse or suspension — until the process was back on track would clarify matters.
“We had a process, we were following the process, and then some of the commissioners wanted to change the process.
Our legal counsel was very clear that we needed to follow the process and if we determined we had not found a suitable hire within the process, we needed to start the process again,” Schulz said. “More, I think they needed us to have clarity to continue the process.”
The motion passed.
Clearing the air
“That cleared the air,” Schulz said later. Jarrard and Davis have been “doing a really good job helping us understand not only our responsibilities and restore public confidence. “If we have airtight policies, we need to follow them consistently. We need to have clarity for the staff.”
The process for hiring the county manager was furthest along, among the county’s open positions, with the required public announcement of the three top finalists made on Dec. 27, 14-days in advance of the manager could be hired. Earlier, a selection committee had narrowed down the 29 applicants for the position to five top finalists. Members of the committee were County Chair Keith Ellis, Commissioners J. C. Henderson and Lanier Sims, Finance Director Michelle Kelly and Frey.
Before the end of December, though, two candidates had withdrawn their names from consideration. The committee did not move a third finalist was not moved to the next stage. The final two candidates, announced publically just before New Year’s were Adam C. Mestres, Jefferson County Manager, and Ronnie Cowan, Director of Human Resources for the City of Covington.
Schulz said she thought the policy submitted was good, “but if there’s a commissioner who’s not confident with moving forward, [we should] put it off for two weeks.”
Interim County Manager appointed
Following the vote, Schulz made a motion, seconded by District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims, to appoint Lloyd Kerr, Director of Developmental Services the Interim County Manager. Sims asked that the motion be amended to state Kerr would return to his position when his role as county manager ended.
The motion for Kerr to serve as the interim county manager passed unanimously.
Putting Kerr in place, Schulz said, was a good decision. Kerr “has rolled up rolled up his sleeves and already stabilized the situation [with county staff]. He’s already taking on the task to provide that leadership immediately.
“We have to address this landfill and these convenience centers immediately,” she said. “He and Mr. Wadley have already started working on solutions. Jody Nolan is finding the funding for us through the insurance policies – that will be extraordinarily helpful to have those insurance monies to cover the cost.
Kerr became the county’s new Development Services Coordinator in November 2014. He had worked for Newton County, Covington, and Fayetteville in Georgia, and in Pensacola, Florida. He has a bachelor’s of science and master’s degree from the University of Georgia, along with strong work experience.