Macon-Bibb department heads face competition for jobs

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 1, 2014 

Macon and Bibb County have become Macon-Bibb County, but some parts of the body politic still have two heads.

The Macon-Bibb County Fire Department has been a unified agency for years, and Chief Marvin Riggins was confirmed in his job Tuesday by the new Macon-Bibb County Commission. Several other departments, such as engineering, merged in 2012 under a city-county service delivery agreement. And more departments consolidated either with the Jan. 1 beginning of the new government or in the immediate run-up to consolidation. Still others in city or county government didn’t have counterparts and came into the new government intact.

But for the moment, that leaves a few departments operating with two people in charge: cooperating, but still separate. By the end of March, however, the new government will have to decide who’s in command.

The remaining departments with dual heads are city and county Human Resources and Information Technology, as well as the city’s Central Services and county’s Buildings & Properties departments, which perform very similar functions, Dale Walker, newly named Macon-Bibb County manager, said by email Tuesday.

In their first meeting, Macon-Bibb commissioners ratified the choices of Riggins, Walker and four others to head departments: Sheila Thurmond as clerk of commission, Judd Drake as county attorney, Christi Iuliucci as finance director, and Robert Faulkner as Municipal Court judge.

Out of necessity the still-divided departments already have been working together. City Central Services Director Gene Simonds said during renovations to the commission chamber that he and county Buildings & Properties Director Sam Kitchens collaborated in assigning and combining crews to handle the work.

If it comes down to choosing between two current heads, that wouldn’t necessarily mean one would lose out entirely, Commissioner Al Tillman said.

“I’m thinking that there is room for assistants,” he said. But some sort of ranking will have to be done.

“You can’t continue to have two people doing one job,” Tillman said.

Within 90 days all employees effectively will have to reapply for their jobs, Walker said. But while officials have often said there’s plenty of work to go around for lower-level employees, departments as a whole only need one person in charge.

In a month, new job descriptions will have been developed, he said. Two months from now, potential department heads will be interviewed. And in three months, the final choices will be announced, he said.

Discussion of whether anyone can apply or whether applications for department-head positions will be limited to current city-county employees is “still developing,” Walker said.

Tillman said it’s unfortunate that employees will have to reapply, but he hopes some of those senior employees with long tenure will take the chance to retire, thus sparing commissioners some tough choices. He appreciates those employees’ many years of hard work and has already asked Human Resources staff to look at offering retirement incentives, he said.

“You’ve got at some point to begin to cut costs and get rid of overhead and those things that are not necessary,” Tillman said.

Barring emergencies, the consolidation charter requires that Macon-Bibb County cut its budget by 20 percent within five years. No cut is required in the first year, but a 5 percent cut from the current budget is required in each of the following four years.

Mayor Robert Reichert told commissioners-elect last month that there are job slots for all current employees, but department head jobs will be thrown open to all applicants at the end of March.

In some cases, current department heads plan to retire, but inevitably there will be a few choices for the new commission to make, he said.

The charter gives Reichert the power to appoint and dismiss department heads, but some commissioners have already said they want that rule changed.

“I would hope that we would have some oversight,” Tillman said. Without some say in whether department heads keep their jobs, he said, commissioners wouldn’t have much influence on operations.

Tillman said he’ll watch closely for the next three months to see how department heads work with their subordinates; but he also wants to see employees treat the Macon-Bibb changeover as a “new day” for their own relations with department heads.

“They should be excited to get up every day,” he said. “None of those old issues should come into the new consolidated government.”

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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