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Firings of 3 top officials cost Hall County $146,000
Lutz, Gibbs say eliminating assistant administrator post will save in long run
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The recent removal of three top Hall County officials will cost the county more than $146,000 over the next six months.

In January, the board of commissioners took a split vote not to renew the contracts of County Administrator Charley Nix, Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton and Finance Director Michaela Thompson.

But the county will continue to pay them in severance while also paying the salaries of Interim County Administrator Jock Connell and Interim Finance Director Lisa Johnsa.

Connell and Johnsa were hired in January to work six-month terms ending July 8.

Connell has a contract to earn $85,000 over six months; Johnsa will be paid $60,750 during the same period.

When added to the severance packages of Nix, Sutton and Thompson, the county will be shelling out $384,158 for the three positions through July.

Had the commissioners voted instead to renew the contracts of the three officials, the county would have spent $237, 398 in salary and benefits.

The changes leave the county on the hook for an additional $146,760 over the next six months.

But the commissioners who favored the changes at the administrative level stand by their decision.

"I look at it as long-term savings because we've eliminated a position," Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. "I see that over the six months, yes it is an increased cost. But after that we'll start to enjoy the savings that go with it. And hopefully it will be a perpetual savings."

Commissioner Craig Lutz said he sees eliminating the assistant county administrator position as a logical way to save funds.

"I look at the job that the administrator and assistant administrator were doing and felt like it was two hands of the same body," Lutz said. "I felt like one person kind of handled the PR aspect and one person handled the fundamental accounting and finance aspect of it, and it was my feeling going forward that both of those functions would be better off consolidated in one person."

Chairman Tom Oliver, who voted against removing Nix, Sutton and Thompson, said he is "even more against it now."

"Not only is the money a problem but the brain power and knowledge that went out as well," Oliver said.

"I think we had very qualified people that understood this county, and this has set us back numerous years."

Oliver said with so many ongoing county projects, it is an unwise burden on the staff to eliminate the position of assistant administrator.

"I just think everybody is getting by, but for a county north of Atlanta with a lake and the challenges and opportunities here, we've got to be careful not to shortchange ourselves," Oliver said.

"We've got to protect the integrity of our county."

Gibbs said Hall County simply doesn't have that luxury in the midst of a recession when the majority of the budget is personnel.

"At the end of the day, the only thing county government has to cut is people," Gibbs said.

In early January, Gibbs, Lutz and Ashley Bell voted to not renew the contracts of the employees, saying they sought to take the county in a new direction and save money. Connell and Johnsa were brought in on an interim basis.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia has been asked to help conduct a nationwide search for a new administrator.