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County continues paying former interim administrator
Connell now serving in part-time role
0111jock connell
Jock Connell

Since commissioners hired Randy Knighton as the permanent county administrator, they have paid their former temporary leader nearly $40,000.

Jock Connell, the former interim county administrator, will likely continue to be a staple in the government for the next several months, commissioners said.

Connell, now a part-time consultant for the county, has taken on a lead role in some of the county's most important projects, commissioners said.

He declined a request for interview for this report.

Hall County's elected officials say he is guiding the county's efforts to build Glades Reservoir and will likely lead the county through negotiations with municipalities over sales tax distribution next year.

He is also involved in a restructuring of the county's retirement system and consults on insurance issues, according to Commissioner Ashley Bell.

Commissioners say Connell's expertise and his continuity is important on the reservoir project.

"Glades is a big project, and it's a moving target at all times," Bell said. "...The last thing we wanted to do is drop the ball there in a big transition phase."

Knighton, the new county administrator, describes Connell's role as a "project manager" for Glades Reservoir and for a reorganization of county benefits.

Knighton and Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix still handle the day-to-day operations of the county, Knighton said.

"Jock's role as project manager is one to oversee, to act as a liaison, to be a conduit between the county and the various entities that we have to deal with on these projects," Knighton said.

Knighton said he is still "aware of the particulars" of the projects Connell oversees. Connell's continued involvement is important, he said, because projects like Glades hit "critical stages" during Connell's time as interim administrator.

Connell stepped back from his full-time position with the county in early August, after commissioners named Knighton as the county's new permanent administrator in mid-July.

A former Gwinnett County administrator, Connell came to Hall in January as interim administrator after commissioners purged the county of its upper-level managers.

He later declined an offer for the permanent position, but agreed to stay on for at least 90 days at a rate of $115 per hour after Knighton was hired.

The deal was sealed in a July 28 meeting of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, when all but Commissioner Craig Lutz voted to keep Connell on for another 90 days.

The vote also allowed Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Vice Chairman Scott Gibbs to extend Connell's employment for an additional three months, which they have done.

Since Aug. 8, Connell has worked an average of 23 hours a week, billing a total of 347 hours at the $115 rate by Nov. 22, according to human resources director Linda Pryor.

Lutz opposed the July decision to keep Connell as a part-time employee. Lutz, who was also the sole commissioner against hiring Knighton, said he has changed his mind about the two decisions.

"Today, hindsight being 20/20... I believe that (Connell) has been able to give some transitionary assistance in getting Randy in place and is probably ... partly the reason Randy has been so successful," Lutz said.

To Bell, Connell's work has been a "good value" and has aided in issues in the county that no one else had experience with.

By mid-November, Connell had been paid a total of $136,598.60, most of which was earned when Connell was a full-time employee. Until Aug. 5, Connell was paid $81.73 an hour; he also received a monthly car allowance and reimbursements for cell phone use.

If Connell continues to work for the county part time beyond February 2012, it will require a formal decision by the commission.

Bell says he is open to continuing the county's relationship with Connell as long as it is cost-efficient and Connell's expertise proves to be "to the best benefit of the taxpayers."

Lutz, too, says he will need to know what benefit Connell's extended employment will bring to the county before voting on it.

"For me to support any additional time, I believe there's got to be definitive goals and responsibilities," Lutz said. "I would have to see what the goals, priorities and what his particular impact on (the Glades Reservoir) would be before I could say if I support it or not."

Oliver says Connell's time with the county hasn't yet been defined, but says "more than likely" commissioners will consider keeping Connell beyond February.

"There's an even chance, sure," Oliver said. "He's working on some special projects ... there's a need for somebody with his expertise in there."

Commissioners Billy Powell and Scott Gibbs did not respond to requests for comment on this report.

 

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