Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis’ attempt to get himself named as an equal to county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko in the county’s Human Resources Policies and Procedures manual ran into opposition last night.
Commissioner John Daniell, in a methodical analysis of the 42-page document, asserted repeatedly that the reference to the chair should be removed in all but one place to leave Benko as the person in charge of administration of the policies spelled out in the document.
Davis acknowledged that he had inserted the references to the chair in the document after an earlier version had been circulated, saying all he was trying to do was make sure that someone was present with authority in the case of an emergency.
Commissioner Jim Luke was unpersuaded, saying that it was simply another attempt by Davis to get power that the commissioners had delegated to the administrative officer.
In the end, Daniell and Luke gained some support from Commissioner Mark Saxon, and the Board took no action on the document, at least until next week.
Rare Display Of Disagreement
The 50-minute-long discussion produced a rare display of disagreement among Board members, who go out of their way to not disagree publicly.
Davis and Luke interrupted each other, and Davis accused Luke of being inattentive to the materials provided him.
Luke accused Davis of being less than transparent about how the final document was shaped.
The video below captures the heart of that exchange and ends with Luke’s charge that Davis simply would not accept that the commissioners back in 2009 had designed the administrative officer as the person in charge of the day-to-day operation of the county.
Administrative Officer Benko, who also does not often show open disagreement with Davis, was clear in saying that the document as presented to the BOC last night by county Human Resources Director Malinda Smith undercut his authority.
“It is my responsibility, with staff, under our organizational ordinance, to direct the day-to-day operations of the government,” he said.
“The fact that the chairman is the man to go to if the administrative officer is not available has never been disputed or challenged in any way,” Daniell said, “but you have employees tell you ‘I got two bosses.’ It just ain’t right.”
Daniell had said he would agree that the chairman should be involved as an equal with the administrative officer only in a single section dealing with pay grades.
HR Director Smith had introduced the document to the Board in a five-minute presentation, and at no time did she mention the changes made by the chairman.
Luke clearly was confused by the different versions of the document and acknowledged that he had not read carefully the version that was before the Board.
Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes made little contribution to the discussion, but he did speak in support or Davis at one point.
Saxon also stayed largely on the sidelines, but in the end he said the policy is for the administrative officer to be in charge of the day-to-day operation of the county and all that is needed is a simple statement about happens if the administrative officer is absent for travel or illness.
At the beginning of the meeting, during the citizen comment period, Sarah Bell asked the Board to consider a code of ethics for volunteers serving on committees and board in the county.
Bell said there are times when citizens stay on those committees an overly long period of time and that there are individuals on those boards with conflicts of interest.
I asked the Board to identify who was responsible for spending nearly $10,000 for design work for the reconnection of Old Mars Hill Road to Mars Hill Road proper–a design change ultimately rejected by the Board.
I also asked if the Board had in place a policy to keep this kind of expenditure from being made in the future.
Commissioner Daniell said the Board had not resolved the issue of responsibility for the expenditure of the $10,000 and may consider in the future a policy to prevent this from happening again.
Henry Hibbs, chair of the Farmland Preservation Committee, said his group was recommending two farms for protection under the county’s program, one owned by Amy Rosen and the other owned by Ian McClure.
Hibbs did not identify the farms, but county tax records indicate Rosen has property on Colham Ferry Road and McClure has a number of properties in the south of the county.
The county gave tentative approval to the recommendation.
Hibbs also reported that he expected final action on the farm put forward two years ago to take place in about 30 days and final action on the farm selected last year should be in April of next year.
Carole Ludwig owns the farm selected two years ago, and Beverly Rollins owns the farm selected last year.
Brian Thompson, director of electric and telecommunications for the city of Monroe, told the BOC that the city has partnered with Walton EMC to provide Internet services to a number of areas of the county, including Morningside and Brookhaven subdivisons off Hodges Mill Road.
Thompson said the initial plan had been for the city of Monroe to provide the service on its own, but that “didn’t work out.”
Instead, he has reached an agreement with Walton EMC to provide wireless Internet off Walton poles.
Thompson said that there are six or seven communities that could be served if he could attach devices to a county water tower off Mars Hill Road.
The BOC was receptive to exploring that possibility.