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Forsyth County manager could be terminated

POSTED: September 3, 2008 5:01 a.m.

CUMMING — At least two commissioners said Thursday that Forsyth County’s manager is on her way out, though a decision likely won’t be made official until next week.

Commissioners on Thursday morning postponed discussion about County Manager Rhonda O’Connor, though it was the only item on the agenda for the called meeting.

After the session, Commissioner Linda Ledbetter said the postponement was "simply prolonging the inevitable" termination of O’Connor.

"This was just a ploy for her to stay through September," Ledbetter said. "I have no idea why."

O’Connor, who has held the post for 11 months, left the meeting without commenting and could not be reached afterward.

Ledbetter said an issue regarding the fiscal year 2008 budget was among the problems the commission has had with O’Connor.

Ledbetter said, however, that the apparent shift of $5 million from the county’s financial reserves was "the final straw."

Commissioner Brian Tam also indicated that O’Connor would be fired, saying he was unhappy regarding the budget issue.

"We were not presented accurate information when we voted on the 2008 budget," Tam said. "The theme of this administration has been withholding information. She’s been written up for it before and it appears she’s done it again."

O’Connor has been written up twice in her tenure with the county, most recently in March when the board cited "insubordinate actions" stemming from a disagreement between her and Tam.

Prior to that, she was disciplined in spring 2007 while serving as interim county manager, a post she held for 17 months. She previously had worked as assistant county manager from October 2005 to April 2006.

According to O’Connor’s contract, she makes $130,000 a year and can carry over up to 240 hours of compensatory time from year to year. She would be able to cash in the unused time at the end of her employment.

Provided that she is not fired for a felony or misdemeanor involving drug use or gross disregard for moral standards, her severance includes an entire year’s salary, either in one lump sum or monthly payments.

Thursday, commissioners voted 5-0 to postpone the item marked simply "County Manager" on the agenda.

Commissioners David Richard, Tam and Ledbetter initially were opposed to postponing the matter, but went along with it because the board would not have been able to proceed with the next meeting without unanimous agreement.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the vote was a procedural issue.

Before storming out of the boardroom, Richard said he would change his vote "so we can end this kindergarten session."

Ledbetter described it "is a sad situation for me, especially because I really like Rhonda as a person."

"The buck stops with her though," Ledbetter said. "Unfortunately, you either do a really good job or you don’t. Personalities can’t enter into that.

"I think we will fire her on (Sept. 4) unless they postpone it again. This is just going to make it harder. It’s going to make a complete disaster for everybody."

Tam said the issue has been a long time coming.

"(Chairman Charles) Laughinghouse has continued to tolerate (her behavior) and the majority of the board feels this just can’t go on," he said.

Questions about a possible shift of funds arose earlier this month after commissioners received a midyear 2008 budget report from Bill Thomas, the county’s chief financial officer.

The report showed the county’s budget deficit had grown to $6.9 million, an increase of $200,000 since April, and seemed to indicate that $5 million had been transferred to help cover the shortfall.

Commissioners were concerned that they had not voted on such a transfer. In reality, however, the board had approved such a possibility when it passed the budget back in August 2007, according to County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

Last week, Deputy County Manager Doug Derrer said there were no plans to use the $5 million from county reserves.

Derrer, who had been Hall County’s public works director, retired from that position in December after serving some 26 years with Hall County in various positions.

Ledbetter was worried that transferring that much money would have left the county reserves shy of $25 million, a benchmark that helps determine the county’s bond rating.

The bond rating has taken on new significance as the county prepares to issue $100 million in bonds for parks, recreation and green space. Voters approved the measure in February.



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