The search for a Hall County administrator is stretching deep into summer, as commissioners scour Hall and surrounding counties for qualified candidates. And they're less than a month away from when the interim administrator is set to leave.
Chairman Tom Oliver said the commission wants to look for a Hall County employee to fill the position, and despite doubts from other commissioners, he is optimistic the commission could have a full-time administrator by the end of the month.
Interim county administrator Jock Connell is scheduled to leave his position on Aug. 7.
Interim Finance Director Lisa Johnsa finished her term Friday, and Purchasing Director Tim Sims is taking her place in an interim capacity until the new county administrator can choose a full-time finance director, Commissioner Craig Lutz said.
"What we don't want is to bring in a finance director and then later add a county administrator, because if (the county administrator) is not comfortable with the person, they're not going to be able to work effectively together."
Commissioners say they have considered asking Connell to extend his term if they can't find an exemplary candidate within the next couple of weeks.
Lutz added that commissioners extended an offer about three weeks ago to a local candidate who turned the job down.
Commissioner Ashley Bell said he doubts Connell will be able to leave the position on his scheduled date.
"I don't think Aug. 7 is going to be Jock's last day," he said.
While Connell did not enter a unified atmosphere when he was hired in January, the commission is unified on his ability to manage the county, Bell added.
"In a short period of time, he's brought such a reality check to this commission and to this county about how far we have to go to be the kind of county and have the sort of efficiencies and professional government that we all think Hall County deserves," he said.
He added the commission will need to make a unified decision on a very short list of candidates within the next week to 10 days if commissioners plan to find an administrator who could fill Connell's shoes anywhere near the time of his departure.
Connell did not originally plan to spend his entire summer in Hall County, but his term as interim administrator was extended in July. While Connell is still on schedule to leave in August, he said he does not want to leave Hall County without someone in an administrative position.
"I certainly don't want to leave anybody in the lurch, but I just think we need to see how the next couple of weeks go and then we'll evaluate what we need to do," he said. "... I want what's best for them, and I'm going to do whatever I can do to make sure that they're left in as good a position as they can be left in."
Commissioner Billy Powell said the best option would be to find a local replacement and to convince Connell to extend his term at least into the rest of August. But the search for a new administrator isn't going as well as they had hoped, Powell said. While the commission has considered some candidates, "none of them have really shined."
"I'd rather have somebody with local knowledge," he added.
If commissioners can't find a candidate, they have set aside $18,000 to hire representatives from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia to find a replacement. In a worst-case scenario, Hall County would have to pay Carl Vinson to help in the hiring process, then pay relocation costs for a county administrator from another part of the state, Lutz said.
But since the county won't offer retirement or deferred compensation to the new administrator, Oliver doubts that hiring Carl Vinson to find a candidate would be an option.
A candidate who is already a Hall County employee would be familiar with the county's benefits system, or lack thereof, and Oliver said some potential candidates were discouraged from taking the position by the lack of benefits.
"With Carl Vinson, why would they want to go out and represent the county knowing that we don't offer retirements, we can't offer any of those availabilities," he said. "Most county managers all across the country that are employed have those benefits available to them, and we don't offer that in Hall County."
Commissioner Scott Gibbs could not be reached for comment for this story.