Former Hall County Parks and Leisure Services Director Deborah Mockus said she felt "betrayed" when county officials suggested she leave her position due to the wishes of a county commissioner. But, county officials said they recommended she explore new positions due to her inadequate job performance.
Mockus was hired in 2002 as the county parks director. She said Hall County Administrator Jim Shuler told her on Jan. 15 that she "needed to start looking for a job." March 14 was Mockus’ last day as county parks director.
Mockus said she first thought Hall County Commissioner Steve Gailey had issues with her being a woman in a leadership position beginning in 2003, when she started overseeing construction of a dog park within the county.
She said Gailey was unsupportive of a series of projects in which she was involved, but maintains that tensions with Gailey culminated when a group of volunteers stepped forward to extend a temporary boat ramp at Clarks Bridge Park.
The former parks director said she was not closely involved in the grass-roots ramp extension project, but did put volunteer director Kerry Hicks in contact with personnel at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the corps staff raised questions regarding the manner in which the ramp was being constructed.
Gailey, whose district encompasses Clarks Bridge Park, said Mockus was interfering with the project that Shuler designated Hall County Assistant Administrator Phil Sutton to oversee rather than Mockus.
"It was quite irritating to me that she was hindering a project Hall County citizens were volunteering to do," Gailey said. "As far as her being a female and being a department head, that has nothing to do with her leaving. It has more to do with her job performance."
Gailey added that there are multiple female department heads working within Hall County government, and he has had no conflicts with them.
According to the Hall County government Web site, there are two female directors and one female interim director leading three of 21 county departments.
Sutton said he conducted an annual job performance review of Mockus in early January that garnered a "less than fully satisfactory" grade.
Shuler said that in light of Sutton’s review of Mockus in conjunction with the weekly meetings in which he and Sutton met with Mockus in an effort to improve her job performance between May and December, he believed other positions outside of Hall County might better suit Mockus.
He added that in Mockus’ contract, it states the county administrator is empowered to hire or fire county employees at the administrator’s discretion.
"It’s only after Mr. Sutton’s involvement with her and supervision that I talked with Debbie about the fact that she might want to look at her career with Hall County and explore her options. I never set a date for her to leave," Shuler said. "Her parks needed work. And she wasn’t keeping her board informed."
But Mockus said that she thinks Shuler’s Jan. 15 meeting with her was a result of Gailey’s dissatisfaction with her brief involvement in the Clarks Bridge Park ramp project completed on Jan. 12.
"(Shuler) strongly implied he was getting pressure from this commissioner to get a new director," Mockus said. "He didn’t mention Steve’s name, but he mentioned how I was meddling in the project at Clarks Bridge Park and some issues with the East Hall Community Center. I was in shock. I was very surprised that I was being asked to leave a position that I had dedicated myself to.
"If I had done something wrong that’s one thing, but I hadn’t. I was disappointed and very hurt. I felt betrayed."
Beginning last summer, Shuler said he received complaints from more than one Hall County commissioner regarding Mockus, and said he also received complaints from the Hall County Parks and Leisure Services Board.
Larry Poole, chairman of the Hall County Parks and Leisure Services Board, said he attended monthly meetings with Mockus, but thought the director could have done a better job keeping the board informed of county park projects under way. Poole added that it seemed Mockus was performing fairly well at her job, although communication issues between the department and the county board of commissioners were apparent.
Sutton said that a primary factor in her less than fully satisfactory job review was that Mockus did not quickly make efforts to repair a disconnect between parks and leisure supervisors and park managers, a problem he and Shuler said they noted repeatedly in weekly meetings with Mockus.
Hall County Commissioner Bobby Banks said his primary concern in the matter is that Mockus’ resignation is the third mutual resignation of a county employee who has also received a severance package in the past 18 months. He also noted that Mockus was leading the county’s 24 parks when the department received an award in 2007 from the Georgia Recreation and Park Association for agency of the year.
Mockus received a six months severance package that equates to roughly $45,000.
She began working as Arcade city administrator on March 17.
"I’m not interested in filing a lawsuit. I just want the truth to be known," Mockus said. "I want to get this behind me and move on."