As President Barack Obama celebrated his first 100 days in office this past week, Rockdale County Chairman Richard A. Oden also took a look back on how he spent his first three-and-half months leading the county.
"So far, it's just been an incredible journey for me. Of course you know anytime you have change in an environment, there is to be expected a certain amount of resistance. There will be a certain group of people who want to maintain their position. But you'll also have a small group of individuals who pick up on the vision of change and move forward with that," Oden said.
After defeating former Chairman Roy Middlebrooks to become the county's first black chairman, and the first Democrat to hold the seat in more than 20 years, Oden began his administration redefining roles and responsibilities in government.
"During our first 100 days, we had some very high challenges. But we made a commitment to keep everybody on the team, we worked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our agency and find out where our opportunities were," Oden said.
Oden looked at the agency from a strategic management standpoint, restructuring and reorganizing positions and responsibilities.
Among the changes, the chairman revamped more than 40 job descriptions, such as restructuring the chief of staff position to oversee the county's internal and external operations and report directly to the chairman, not the board of commissioners. He also created a new Emergency Services Department, which has combined the fire department, emergency 911 and animal control under the same umbrella, and a new emergency services director position to oversee the department.
"We took a lot of hits during that process from a media standpoint. But we understand, whenever there is change, those things will happen. So the success that you'll see going forward was there but it was hidden in midst of all the noise and the chatter," said Oden.
As the county continues to move forward, Oden said his focus is on building the agency's internal processes, which began with one-on-one coaching for department directors.
"We as an agency are continuing to work on our growth internally, serving the internal customers. That is our objective throughout the entire year. How can we better serve each other in the agency for entire year for 2009 as we still go about running our day-to-day programs," said Oden.
Oden's administration has been marked by a leadership approach that is business-focused in nature, which can be tied to Oden's experience in corporate management.
"That's basically what I know. As I'm going through this process, I'm focusing on harmonizing the success of the government's systems and bringing a business structure to it. It's been a little challenging for me to blend the two. We all have a business mindset in the government. It's just about blending my style of management with that," Oden said.
Oden said his focus on accountability and quantifiable results was initially met with resistance, but that resistance is starting to wane, both within the agency and the community.
"As we begin to accomplish certain tasks, as we begin to accomplish certain objectives and goals, and get results, then people are begining to get a greater level of comfort," Oden said.
In terms of successes, Oden pointed to the work of the previous administrations that started projects that are now being completed, such as the tennis center and the J.P. Carr Center.
"The project (J.P Carr Center) goes back to the Chairman Randy Poynter and it bled into administration of Chairman Norman Wheeler, which bled into the administration of Chairman Roy Middlebroooks, which now I'm standing on their shoulders today from a success standpoint to complete that project," said Oden.
Oden also highlighted the current administration's stand-alone successes, which includes Chief of Staff R.J. Hadley's work to secure the $2.7 million neighborhood stabilization grant awarded to the county last month and additional funding from the state for the Rockdale Cares program. Hadley also was instrumental in securing those funds.
Although Oden touts his successes, he said his administration still has a lot of work ahead during the almost four years he still has left in his first term, one that he plans will not be cut short by a handful of recall efforts brewing in the county.
"In any environment, you're not going make everyone happy and everyone is not going to be your friend. Fortunately for me, I get more people walking up to me from all backgrounds who talk about the support they have for this administration and the changes they're seeing taking place," Oden said. "I think it's a very small group of individuals, who I'm hopeful, eventually will come around. And if they don't, they just don't. But I'm still charged with making this community the community it can be for them too."