Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Oconee County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas Resigns

Effect Next Week

Chris Thomas, head of Oconee County’s beleaguered Utility Department, has resigned effective June 19.

Thomas, 42, has been with the county for 17 years and has been director of the Utility Department since 2008.

Thomas At BOC 1/22/2015

The resignation comes after a tumultuous 10-week period during which a citizen presented video that seemed to show a malfunction of the Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant, a consultant criticized the operation and management of the county’s two sewage facilities, and the county reported three sewage spills.

Thomas said he handed in his resignation on Monday and that he has “no idea what I’m going to do next.”

He said he would look for work outside of county and municipal water and sewer operations.

“I want something that is not political,” he said.

Replacement Unclear

Thomas told me he doesn’t know who is going to replace him as director. “I’ve asked that same question myself,” he said.

Bob Sheldon, who produced the report critical of the operation of the Utility Department, could easily step in and run the department, Thomas said.

Sheldon of Dacula had worked for 20 years operating Gwinnett County’s wastewater plants, County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told the county commissioners when he retained Sheldon to do the report.

I called and emailed Benko this afternoon and asked him if Sheldon had been retained to run the Utility Department, but he did not respond.

Third Resignation

Thomas became the third person from the Utililty Department to resign since the problems at the two plants became public on May 26.

Gene Price, wastewater supervisor, and Anthony Occhipinti, maintenance supervisor, resigned last month.

The Utility Department got some rare good news on Monday when the Upper Oconee Watershed Network said that its monitoring of Calls Creek showed it did not have excessively high levels of the E. coli bacteria, a dangerous contaminant.

Note: Administrative officer Benko sent me an email message on the afternoon of June 11 confirming the resignation of Thomas, with the official last day of June 22. Benko said he had assigned staff to run the department, "but Department Director's decisions will be made by me until the Board appoints a new Director."


Xardox said...

What happens when attention is finally paid to that funny noise coming out of an old machine.
Next? There are plenty of other systems making squeaks and rattles.

Anonymous said...

We'll never know if Melvin forced Thomas to resign, or if it was from his own free will.

The No. 1 question is why didn't Melvin and the commissioners inform the public of these issues when they know about them for half a year??!! Melvin, that's an unforgivable breach of trust.

Bob Sheldon may be a smart choice for the position, but there still needs to be an outside consultant to monitor the department. And will Sheldon face the same politics that Thomas faced? There are grumblings that Utilities employees asked for new membranes for over a year, and were told they were too expensive, and that one of the five commissioners has been overly involved with Utilities operations.

If Melvin and the four see no evil, hear no evil commissioners think this is over because Thomas resigned...bless their hearts.

Please, please Margaret Hale or Chuck Horton: Run against Melvin in the next election!!!

Anonymous said...

I personally think Thomas got thrown under the bus for the miss-deeds of his employees.

Why hasn't anyone brought up the fact that he was spread thin juggling multiple sites, multiple projects and multiple employees without an Assistant Director? The guy was doing his best to hold things together.

The County has been advertising for an Assistant Utility Director for TWO-YEARS!?!?!?! but anyone with the skills has laughed at wages and benefits (about 50% of what they can make elsewhere).

I wish Mr. Thomas well and hope that the small town politicking doesn't negatively affect him. I think Mr. Thomas will have the last laugh by going elsewhere and making 2x or 3x his current salary without having to deal with a couple of clowns wrangling to keep their high paying part-time job.

Anonymous said...

It would be very hard to criticize what was seen/done on the Director's level,especially when there were trained staff in place.

However, attracting talent will require a re-evaluation of what the department is paying for key positions.

If you get interest based on what is being offered, I would seriously question the motivations.

Thankfully, there is a fair amount of scrutiny. As this moves forward, I hope interest in how the wastewater is being treated doesn't wane.

One thing is for certain, if you want quality people, you need to be willing and able to pay for them.

Anonymous said...

Oconee wants to appear big time, but the reality is the there is no money invested in a first class county. I appreciate our volunteer firemen and women. But, no full time fire department? Every homeowner and business pays for that with increased insurance premiums.

One player deep in most positions? Business first and too bad for the residents' needs? Waste plant problems known for 6 mos with no action from the Commission?

The small time leadership of our county comes out big.

Anonymous said...

Oconee County has one of the highest ISO ratings of county whether the FD is paid or volunteer. The insurance rates are extremely low when compared to other Counties of a similar size and character. Fact of the matter is that the VFD does an outstanding job, and I would wager that a paid FD couldn't do any better nor would it change the ISO rating.

If you think your insurance bills are too high, wait until they add 20-30 fire fighters to the payroll (at a cost of 50-75K each per year) I'll wager the paltry perceived insurance cost will pale in comparison to the increase in the tax bill.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...if I didn't know better, I'd guess that Anon 7:22 pm is an elected official or high ranking administrator at the county HQ.