The structure of county government was on the Newton County Board of Commissioner’s (BOC) agenda again at its Sept. 2, 2014 meeting. It was on the secret agenda of District Commissioner Levie Maddox, that is. As readers may recall, this has been a topic of discussion since February and the BOC has met with experts from both the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission several times. Representatives of both clearly have indicated that having both a full time commission chairman and a county manager should be changed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of county government.
Despite multiple work sessions, the last held Aug. 22, the BOC failed to make a decision on the chairman and county manager’s duties. Some on the BOC seemed mostly interested in protecting the status quo and maintaining as much personal authority as possible. The latter is easier with an appointed county manager who reports directly to the BOC.
Now, let’s fast forward to the BOC meeting of Sept. 2, 2014. In a surprise motion that passed quickly, the BOC made a critical decision about our future government structure. This came not after a clearly thought out strategy to improve county government, but in a quick, punitive reaction to the poor judgment Chairman Keith Ellis used in the in the Henderson check episode.
Yes, Chairman Ellis made a bad decision. But the manner used to strip him of his remaining responsibilities was appalling. When the printed agenda called for the BOC to approve hiring Tom Garrett as county manager, Levie Maddox made a motion to expand the duties of the county manager to include “engineering and fleet management,” further gutting the Chairman’s role in county government. Mr. Maddox later authorized Garrett to hire “consultants” to help him learn his new role.
While the actions of the BOC were not surprising after the check controversy, the last minute agenda change and surprise motion by Mr. Maddox had the effect of eliminating any public notice of that this would be taken up by the BOC at this meeting. This move also bushwhacked other commissioners not already in on the plan. Commissioner Maddox used this same tactic to push forward the 2050 Plan last month.
This may have been good political strategy on Mr. Maddox’ part, but it was totally disrespectful of the public’s right to hear and have input into debates about critical county issues. And, it shows that such decisions often are made in a political context gather than considering what is best for Newton taxpayers. We deserve and pay for better government than this.