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Hall commissioners hope to move forward
Board gets back to work after contentious start, then snowed-out week
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Taking it one day at a time, Hall County commissioners are trying to move forward with the new administration changes with less drama.

Though commissioners have presented a positive outlook publicly since a tension-filled meeting on Jan. 6, small quips and jokes suggest the hurt is still healing.

"Some laughter and humor helps everybody," Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said during an Economic Development Council meeting Friday attended by former and current county employees.

On Jan. 6, commissioners named Jock Connell, former Gwinnett County administrator, to replace Charley Nix as county administrator and Atlanta law firm Holland and Knight to replace Bill Blalock as county attorney. The moves were passed by 3-2 votes, with Commissioners Ashley Bell, Craig Lutz and Scott Gibbs in favor and Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell in opposition.

News about the appointments broke a day earlier than intended, leaving Oliver and Powell in shock as Bell and new commissioners Lutz and Gibbs called for resignations from Nix, Blalock, Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton and Finance Director Michaela Thompson.

That Friday, Connell appointed Lisa Johnsa, a former assistant county administrator and finance director in Gwinnett County, as interim finance director for Hall County.

On Friday, Jeff Benefield took an oath of office for his reappointed Tax Assessors Board post, which commissioners also debated at the early January meeting.

"I probably shouldn't say anything, so I won't," Oliver said at Friday's economic development council meeting amid chuckles.

Though the winter storm chilled controversies surrounding the Jan. 6 meeting, the good feelings will likely thaw as commissioners and county employees get back to their usual work this week. In meetings planned for Jan. 10 and Thursday, county commissioners and staff would have talked about where to place the North Hall library and how to delay work on Cool Springs Park.

Those talks will continue this week and show up on the next county commission agendas on Jan. 24 and 27. Local officials hope they can move forward without further controversy.

"We're at a time where economic development is our No. 1 importance, and it seems that no matter what the politics have been, we always stay on the same page," Dunlap said. "It's important for our community to be together, especially on community development."

Connell continues to emphasize that he is appointed on an interim basis and will do what he can to assist all of the commissioners.

"Charley and Phil have been most gracious in the transition. I'm five days in, and I probably know absolutely nothing at this point," he said. "But I plan to keep the ship in the middle of the road. I don't see a lot of changes coming from me in the next few days at least."

Dunlap thanked Nix and Sutton for being a part of the economic development council and Chamber meetings, and the group gave a standing ovation to the two long-time county officials.

"I just wanted to thank everybody," Nix said. "It's been my pleasure to serve on this council, probably more than on any other committee, and I have my roots in manufacturing here in Hall County. I'll be seeing you around, we'll be fine."

Sutton also thanked the group, trying to end the goodbyes on a good note.

"I want to echo Charley's words. It's been a pleasure," he said. "And though I may look old enough to retire, I'll be looking for work. I've put my application in here. I wish the best to Jock."

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