The choice of a new administrator for Fayette County is heating up the already strained relations among the county commissioners and a misstep by the selection committee might just be sending the whole decision back to the drawing board.
At last week’s county commission meeting, commissioner-elect Charles Oddo told commissioners “the two current commissioners and the three incoming commissioners have been earnestly searching for a replacement to fill Jack Krakeel’s big shoes. It is not a task we have taken lightly.
“It goes without saying that the next Board of Commissioners must have a good working relationship with the next County Administrator, and that we form a team that will benefit the entire county. By your unselfish action, you have allowed the new Board of Commissioners to form it’s team.
“Fayette County will benefit as a whole because you have encouraged this process to proceed. In the end, we are all citizens of this great county which you have acknowledged by your actions.”
The selection committee had narrowed down the search from a long list of nearly 30 to five top contenders and then on September 26 and 27 set up interviews with those five candidates. However, the committee, made up of county commissioners Steve Brown and Allan McCarty and commissioners-elect Oddo, Randy Ognio and David Barlow, did not advertise the executive session meetings in the Fayette County News, the county’s legal organ, within the prescribed 24-hour period prior to the meeting.
Brown said he posted the minutes in the window, next to the posting board outside the commission offices, but didn’t know that he had to let the legal organ know.
“I consulted a pair of attorneys who also did not know the requirement. The incoming commissioners acted on what I told them so I take full responsibility for not knowing about the changes in the law.”
They also did not approach the county’s own attorney, Scott Bennett to ask for the information. Brown said the committee didn’t feel that Bennett “could provide an unbiased opinion since he had interjected himself into the hiring process, unsolicited, making negative comments. Unfortunately, our HR department had not run a hire outside county staff for a department head or county administrator since 1998.”
Bennett, in turn, said all he did was clarify the selection process for one of the committee members, pointing out that the HR department had not selected the top five candidates but had, instead, organized a list of candidates, their qualifications and scoring them within the county’s parameters and arranged a conference call with the head of HR. He did not, Bennett insisted, insert himself into the process nor did he make any negative comments about the process or the applicants.
Brown said he made attempts to call the state’s attorney general’s office and the legal counsel’s office at the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s office
“Unfortunately, neither were in the office at the start of the day. The ACCG counsel did get back to me hours later and made me aware of the new advertising requirement.”
Brown called the offices of the Fayette County News and another local newspaper, and “gave a full disclosure, offering all information and invitations to attend two interviews hours later and the next day.”
He said since the first applicant had driven a long distance, he felt it was necessary, in fairness to the applicant, to conduct the interview. He received the call from legal counsel about two hours after that interview.
Whether or not the interviews will be repeated, it would appear that the committee had already narrowed down their choice to a single candidate.
On September 27, the five signed a letter to county commission chairman Herb Frady, indicating the committee “found it was not necessary to reduce the list further for another round of interviews as one candidate stood out as the top selection in all our minds.
“Steve Rapson, currently serving as the city manager for Union City, has significant leadership experience at the city, county and school board levels. He specializes in government finance and has plenty of practical public-private partnership experience.
“In addition to managing large budgets and staffs, Mr. Rapson is also exceptionally familiar with our county government as well as other other Fayette municipalities and the Fayette County Board of Education.”
Rapson was also on the Peachtree City council a decade ago.
While the committee might be happy with the selection-- and thus far no commissioner has argued with Rapson’s qualifications-- the other three commissioners have expressed their unhappiness at the process, especially given the fact that lack of transparency at the county government level was the cornerstone of most campaigns.
“I would point out that the spirit of the open meetings rules have not been met,” said commissioner Lee Hearn, who had been the instigator of getting the three commissioners-elect on board the committee since “they would be the ones dealing with a new county administrator”. “Was anyone aware that the interviews were being conducted? When and where were they posted, per the law. The three finalists for the county administrator’s position should be provided to the newspaper two weeks prior to making the selection.”
Hearn also alleges that Bennett had apprised Brown of the two-week requirement before the work began.
“I am willing to begin the process again under all new regulations and this will be done, most likely, in January since the out-going commissioners seem reluctant to proceed under any circumstances.
“Again, I take full responsibility for not knowing the new law.”