COVINGTON — Newton County commissioners may be rethinking their form of government after the county manager expressed concerns about commissioners circumventing the chain of command and providing direction to county employees.
Under Newton’s current form of government, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2016 and took effect Jan. 1, 2017, the county manager is in charge of all day-to-day operations of the county. All county officers and employees — except those at the executive level, such as the county attorney and county clerk — report to the county manager. The Board of Commissioners is responsible only for setting policy.
At the Aug. 3 Board of Commissioners meeting, County Manager Lloyd Kerr sought to have commissioners approve a resolution reiterating that county officers and employees are subject to the direction and supervision of the county manager. Kerr said the resolution was simply a reminder that any inquiries commissioners have about day-to-day operations should be sent to him. Kerr said commissioners should not instruct, advise or attempt to persuade any county employee.
Kerr said the issue was brought to his attention by employees who felt intimidated by contact from commissioners. Kerr did not identify which commissioner or commissioners were involved.
“There have been occasions where, quite frankly, I think there have been some issues,” said Kerr. “So, I think it best to simply remind everybody that anything related to operations would need to go through me. I appreciate your consideration of this as we move forward.”
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards agreed with Kerr.
“You are absolutely right,” said Edwards. “The integrity of our chain of command is absolutely paramount.”
Edwards then apologized, adding that he is “one of the more guilty — if not the only guilty party of this whole deal.”
But District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason and District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson disagreed, saying that they want to be able to go directly to county employees, particularly department heads and directors.
Henderson said he believes the chairman and the vice chair should have a greater role in directing employees.
Mason said he thinks the county’s charter should be changed to allow commissioners to go directly to department directors, as long as the county manager is notified.
“We have constituents that are expecting us to come through for them in a timely manner,” said Mason. “I think sometimes we have to jump through whatever hoops we need to do to make that happen.”
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said there was no need for a resolution since the county charter already outlines the county manager’s responsibilities.
“If there is an issue a director has with a commissioner, have that conversation (with the commissioner) before you put something in order because we don’t know who did what up here,” she said. “I know I’m at a loss.”
After a lengthy discussion, commissioners decided to table the issue until Sept. 7 when County Attorney Megan Martin will bring back an amended resolution allowing commissioners to contact department directors.
The county’s current charter stipulates that no changes can be made to the enabling legislation without the approval of at least four members of the five-member BOC.