Search widens for new Macon-Bibb department heads

jgaines@macon.comFebruary 15, 2014 

In a month and a half directors will be chosen for 13 departments in the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government -- and competition for those jobs won’t be limited to current city-county employees.

Mayor Robert Reichert has decided to advertise them as widely as possible, hoping to draw candidates from anywhere in the country.

“We wanted to throw it open to attract the best and the brightest,” he said.

That choice is drawing some concern from a few Macon-Bibb County commissioners, since earlier indications were that the process would be limited to existing employees.

Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said he wasn’t aware that the search was being expanded.

“To tell you the truth, it does make a little sense,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, if I was a department head, I’d be sweating bullets.”

The consolidation charter required a half-dozen essential jobs to be filled when the new government took over Jan. 1: county manager, fire chief, clerk of commission, finance director, county attorney and Municipal Court judge. Two assistant county managers were subsequently named as well.

But directors still have not been chosen for 13 departments. The charter calls for them to be picked after the new government has been in operation for 90 days.

A few of the named departments, such as engineering and animal welfare, already were unified under the former city and county governments and already had a single director. Those departments are headed by David Fortson and Sarah Tenon, respectively.

Others, such as information technology and human resources, each had city and county directors who have continued to serve. Stephen Masteller and Grant Faulkner are the joint information technology heads for now, while Ben Hubbard and Bel Wall collaboratively run the Human Resources Department.

And a few are new creations, such as the job of recreation director -- separate from a Parks & Beautification director -- and a solid waste director, a spinoff from the Public Works Department.

The department head jobs will be advertised for a month or so, Reichert said. The consolidation charter actually abolishes the previous jobs 90 days into the new government, he said.

Reichert said all current department heads and other employees are urged to apply for the new positions. But he can’t say whether they’ll all find -- or want -- a spot in the new government.

“The short answer to that is I don’t know, and I’m confident you’ll have a variety of resolutions,” Reichert said. “Some will say they’re happy to have a subordinate position, and the new head will be happy to have them. That may be a different scenario in a different department.”

Commissioner Al Tillman said that if some current department heads aren’t chosen for top jobs and decide to leave the government altogether, he’d like to see them pool their expertise to create their own local businesses, perhaps as consultants.

“We’ve got some talented folks that may or may not get chosen,” Tillman said.

He and Commissioner Elaine Lucas also said Friday they hadn’t previously heard the search was being thrown open.

“I guess it’s the mayor’s prerogative to do it, to expand the search nationally,” she said. “I do feel like we’ve got some well-qualified people already on board.”

Lucas would like to give preference in the selection to current employees who have already put in years of work.

Tillman also said he’d prefer that Reichert hire from within, because there already are capable people working for the government.

“I know sometimes we want to start new and fresh, and even the employees sometimes want someone new and fresh,” Tillman said. But the very act of consolidation was supposed to “clean the slate” already, he said.

The intent of state legislators was for all current employees who want to keep a Macon-Bibb County job to be able to do so, with similar duties and pay, Reichert said.

“I’m going to try to live up to their intent and their expectations,” Reichert said.

Reichert will select the top candidates for each job and present his picks to the Macon-Bibb County Commission for ratification, he said.

Commissioners can confirm or reject his choices for hiring -- but it’s the mayor’s prerogative to fire department heads if he wishes, he said. Reichert opposes setting up any appeal for fired department heads to the commission, as city department heads could under the former Macon city government.

“I think it ought to stay as is,” the mayor said. “I think the intent of the legislators was to set up a strong mayor form of government but allow the mayor to serve as a member of the commission.”

Altering the firing procedure would be a “significant change” to those intentions, Reichert said.

When Reichert presents his choices, commissioners will give them an up-or-down vote, Lucas said.

“That’s one of the few places where we can have input, but after that point the department heads do serve at the pleasure of the mayor,” she said.

Lucas renewed her call for an appeal process for fired department heads, saying that would improve the current candidate search.

“I think it’s going to be hard to attract the folks that we really want to attract, if we are looking nationally, with no appeal rights,” she said. “Everybody wants to have a little bit of job security.”

Shepherd said he expects that commissioners will be closely involved not just in ratifying Reichert’s choices but in selecting among top candidates.

“He has already indicated that once they have gone through the process he is going to bring it to us,” Shepherd said. “That’s been the way he’s treated us so far on just about every issue.”

Tillman said he also thinks Reichert will involve commissioners in the selection process, even to a greater extent than is required.

“Hopefully we’ll have some input,” Tillman said. “Of course, the charter says he doesn’t have to, but I wouldn’t want to be the mayor or county manager and not make sure that the nine commissioners that have to help me move the county forward are on board.”

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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