Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oconee BOC Spends 3+ Hours in CEO Debate

How Many Chefs the Question?

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners spent three plus hours tonight trying once again to figure out how to decrease the power of the board chairman and increase the power of the other four commissioners without changing the county’s enabling legislation.

In the end, the board agreed to meet again in five weeks to consider what County Attorney Daniel Haygood can put on paper that reflects what the four commissioners want and what Haygood feels they can achieve given the county’s existing legislation.

That legislation makes the board chairman both the head of the legislative branch of the county’s government and the chief executive officer of the county. Haygood told the board tonight he thinks the chairman must have broad powers as chief executive officer and the board cannot do much to change that.

In the end, the chairman can sue the board if the chairman thinks power has been improperly usurped, and the courts generally have sided with the chairman, Haygood said.

What the board can do, however, according to Haygood, is change the reporting lines in the county.

The board told Haygood to create the legal documents needed to make the county’s administrative officer and finance director report to the full board, rather than just to Chairman Melvin Davis, as is the case at present.

The organizational chart the four commissioners said they want to adopt would put Administrative Officer Alan Theriault and Finance Director Jeff Benko under the control of the full five member board, along with County Attorney Haygood and County Clerk Gina Lindsey.

The other department heads in the county would report to the administrative officer.

The four commissioners and Davis, working with facilitator Gordon Maner of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, next began elaborating on the things they want Davis as chief executive officer to do.

Included on the list were such things as economic development, public relations, maintaining a full-time office in the courthouse and coordinating intergovernmental activities.

Haygood said he would add to the list some language that elaborated on "what is the general overriding responsibility of a CEO."

Commissioner Margaret Hale expressed frustration with the discussion at several points, saying "I don’t see anything happening."

Davis made his position clear as well: "I don’t think you can have individuals reporting to five people."

The four commissioners had set as a goal having a new organizational chart and new operating procedures in place by July 1.

Haygood said he will send pieces of his proposed document spelling out the responsibilities of the chairman, the administrative officer, the finance director and others to the board for discussion and reaction before the next meeting on June 23.

Earlier in the evening, Haygood had warned the board in another context that meetings by email were covered by the state’s open records laws, meaning they had to be open to the public.

He did not reconcile that advice with his request for feedback on his proposed documents so that the board could hash out differences and come to at least general agreement before it meets again on June 23.

Ten people, including two reporters, attended the meeting tonight. Once again, they were not given any chance to talk. No mention was made during the three hour and nearly 30 minutes of discussion of citizens or how they might be involved in the discussions before any new procedures were put into place.

[I made a video recording of the meeting and will upload it to my Vimeo site as soon as I have edited it.]

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