COVINGTON — A plan to veto a vote opposing renewal of Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr’s contract is contrary to state law governing contracts.
Kerr said Wednesday that, because a majority of the board did not vote to renew his contract, state law would not allow a veto to ratify the contract.
Unless the board takes action in the next seven weeks, Kerr’s contract will expire Jan. 1. Kerr has said he will not continue to work past that date without a contract.
Commissioners voted 3-2 against renewing Kerr’s contract on Nov. 2. The vote not to renew fell along party lines, with Democrats Demond Mason, District 2, Alana Sanders, District 3, and J.C. Henderson, District 4, voting no. Republicans Stan Edwards, District 1, and Ronnie Cowan, District 5, voted to renew.
Following the vote, Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes, who is a Democrat, said he would exercise his veto power to renew the contract. Under the county’s charter, the chairman has the power to veto a 3-2 vote. However, commissioners subsequently learned that state law would not allow the contract to be ratified by veto.
The potential to be without a county manager comes at a time when the county is also looking to hire an in-house attorney. The board rejected a contract with attorney Megan Martin in October by the same 3-2 vote. Martin had worked for the county for several years under contract with the law firm of Jarrard & Davis. When the county opted to move to an in-house attorney, Martin applied and was selected as the final candidate. Since the commissioners failed to agree on a contract with Martin, the county reopened its candidate search. As of Nov. 11, the county had received zero applications for the county attorney position. In the meantime, the county has continued to be represented by Jarrard & Davis.
County Manager Kerr had the full support of the board when his contract was renewed last year. However, Commissioners Sanders, who took office in January, and Henderson recently expressed dissatisfaction with Kerr’s handling of American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the county, saying that it was taking too long to get money to their constituents in need. Kerr was in the process of hiring a consultant to oversee the distribution process when the board decided Nov. 2 to appoint a committee of board members to oversee the distribution process.
In addition, in August, Kerr expressed concerns about commissioners circumventing the chain of command and reminded them that the county’s enabling legislation provides for the county manager to be in charge of all day-to-day operations of the county, while the Board of Commissioners is responsible for setting policy. Kerr said at the time that county employees had brought it to his attention that some commissioners were contacting employees directly.
Commissioner Mason said he thought the enabling legislation should be changed to allow commissioners to give direction to department directors, as long as the county manager is notified.
Commissioners said they would discuss the matter further at a meeting in September, but that discussion never took place.