Even before Jock Connell met Randy Knighton, he was impressed.
When Connell began his term as interim Hall County administrator in January, he watched videos of the Board of Commissioners in action.
He noticed Knighton, then Hall County’s planning director, almost immediately.
“I watched Randy. One of the first people I observed on those videos was Randy,” Connell said. “And there’s something about Randy from day one that stuck out to me and impressed me.”
In a 4-1 vote, Knighton was appointed county administrator at Thursday’s commission meeting.
Knighton is a familiar face in Hall County. He has served as planning director since 2006, and before that he was the county’s senior planner for four years.
Originally from Florida, Knighton has made a career in government planning. After growing up near the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast, Knighton attended the University of Central Florida and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration.
He worked as a government planner in Orange County, Osceola County and the city of Orlando.
It was in Orlando that Knighton met his wife, Debbie. They now have two sons, Randy II, 12, and Ryan, 7.
“I met my wife at church ... we knew each other, but it took about three or four years, and then we became a couple,” he said with a smile.
So how did Knighton, an experienced Floridian planner, wind up in Georgia? It was an act of faith, in more ways than one.
As Knighton’s career grew, so did his desire for more education. In 1999, with years of government planning experience, Knighton took a hiatus to study his other passion: his faith in God.
“My faith has been a foundation of my life,” he said.
Knighton’s lifelong interest in religion led him to Atlanta to attend Emory University. He studied theology and earned a Master of Divinity.
It was no small feat, considering Knighton didn’t work the three years he attended graduate school. He and his wife had also just welcomed their first son into the world.
“We moved when he was three months old, without a job or an income, but we were tremendously blessed during that time. That was one of the great experiences of my life,” he said.
After settling in Gwinnett County, Knighton began working in Hall County in as senior planner in 2002. He was promoted interim planning director four years later.
Knighton’s expertise ranges from zoning to land use issues, transportation to utilities, he said. He has also collaborated with other county departments on comprehensive plans, he said.
“I think a planning background certainly provides a very solid foundation of being able to address broader issues in the county,” he said.
When Connell knew he would be leaving his term as interim administrator Aug. 7, Knighton was his natural choice to fill the position permanently.
“I believe Randy has a good grasp of local government. He has the right demeanor, he’s very measured in his approach to things, and I believe his character and his integrity are beyond reproach,” Connell said.
As Knighton enters his term, he plans to address the vacant financial director’s position and assistant county administrator’s position within the next month. Lisa Johnsa ended her term as interim financial director July 8.
This week, Knighton will lay out 30-day and 60-day plans for the county’s new structure in the wake of last month’s massive budget cuts.
“We can, I believe, move the county forward and maximize everything Hall County has,” Knighton said.