The Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday, with two commissioners approving and one abstaining, to add the duties of a chief of staff to the legal affairs manager while the chief of staff position remained vacant.
Former chief of staff RJ Hadley had announced his resignation earlier in the month to run for the Democratic ticket in the senate race against incumbent Republican Senator Johnny Isakson. Hadley had been hired as chief of staff in January, after running the successful election campaign of now-Chairman Richard Oden.
Human Resources deputy director Janet Rutledge, who presented the change before the Sept. 29 BOC called meeting, said one line would be added to the job description for the Legal Affairs Manager, currently filled by Holly Bowie: "This individual will also perform duties as the chief of staff in their absence."
The county chief of staff, among other duties, serves as the liaison between the three county commissioners, who cannot discuss official county matters with each other except in a public meeting or executive session. County spokesperson Holly Lafontaine had said earlier the county would not be immediately searching for a new chief of staff, especially while the still searching for a director of human resources, but would distribute the duties among existing staff.
The amendment of the legal affairs manager position comes after contentious discussion of a possible deputy chief of staff position at the Sept. 21 BOC work session. After an executive session at the Sept. 25 called meeting, the issue was dropped and instead
Commissioner Oz Nesbitt abstained from voting, he said, because he was not aware the change would be permanent.
"I want to be clear… I thought it was going to be a temporary. This individual is going to perform a chief of staff in their absence until we got a chief on board and some decision would be made to who is going to fill in," he said.
"I have absolutely no problem with the skill set of Ms. Bowie," Nesbitt continued. "She does bring a skill set as far as the historical knowledge. I think because of the strong stance I’ve made on not having a deputy chief of staff — which is not what we’re doing — I’ve decided to abstain from this decision."
During public comments, resident Don Meyer said he did not feel comfortable with the changes.
"The changes we’re making now — the legal affairs individual coming forward and literally having the helm of the county at this time as a reality — I am most uncomfortable with. Only if that individual goes through the same skill sets and training should this county turn over the reins. Mr. Hadley should have had the same thing," Meyer said. "If we’re going to be making the changes and bringing people up to junior skill sets to a high level play, you’ve endangered this county."
Commissioner JaNice Van Ness said she was confident in the board’s decision.
"The skill set we’re bringing in is of a higher level with more experience and training than Mr. Hadley had in the first place. I think the person in this role has more experience and knowledge about county operations and ordinances, policies — how things should work in the organization. I feel very comfortable," she said.
She added, "Down the road, if we’re going to look at a county manager form of government, that’s something I’m in favor of doing." She pointed out this would be a person with a high level of expertise and that the position would come with a high price tag of around $120,000 or more.