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Will turmoil among Hall County leadership linger?
Expert says residents will not feel long-term effect; chairman isn't sure
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With two new commissioners came a slew of changes that have left many wondering what will happen to Hall County next.

In a split vote at the beginning of the month, the Hall County Board of Commissioners ousted administrator Charley Nix, assistant administrator Phil Sutton, finance director Michaela Thompson and attorney Bill Blalock.

Jock Connell was named interim county administrator for a six-month period while a search for a permanent administrator is conducted.

Connell, who worked in Gwinnett County for 23 years before taking the interim post with Hall, said he has witnessed big changes at the county level before.

"When it's going on, people think it's the end of the world. When it's going on, it is very serious for the elected people, for the citizens, for the business community, but it's also very serious for those people who are personally affected," Connell said.

"Time has a way of calming down feelings, and it has a way of clearing people's thinking a little bit, and it has a way of just settling things down. I think you'll see that'll happen here, too."

Langford D. Holbrook, a former county administrator and public service associate at the Fanning Leadership Institute at the University of Georgia, said though the changes to Hall County's government are drastic, they likely won't have a lasting impact.

"The reality is that's how the system is set up, and that's going to happen," Holbrook said. "It doesn't mean that change for change's sake is always good, but it's part of how our political system is designed."

He said as an administrator, he was always prepared for the possibility of a new board voting to replace him.

"Sometimes you just get fired because people want their own people in, and that's how it goes," Holbrook said "It doesn't mean it's fun when everybody gets fired, but that's just how it goes in this business. As they say, you serve at the pleasure of the board. At any given day, the majority can fire you for any cause or no cause at all."

Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver worries that the recent changes to the administration could have long-term implications for the county.

"It's a challenge that's putting a real unfavorable light onto county government at this time," Oliver said. "Only time will tell how this decision works out. I think there are challenges that we don't know what they are now. Before we had a manageable situation. I don't know what the situation is now."

Though they have met just once, it appears the voting lines on the commission have been drawn. In almost every vote at the Jan. 6 meeting, commissioners Oliver and Billy Powell voted together while newcomers Scott Gibbs and Craig Lutz joined Ashley Bell to form a 3-2 majority.

Holbrook said while it's not an ideal situation, its often the reality on a five-member board. As long as discussions remain productive, split votes are not a sign of dysfunction.

"You don't want it just to be the three, but I don't think it's a poisonous dynamic," Holbrook said. "In this country people have legitimately different views of government. ... That's why you only need a majority. You have representatives from all those districts but in the end all you need is a simple majority."

County residents likely won't be affected much by the changes, Holbrook said.

"For a while there's probably a lot of flash and excitement and maybe even drama," Holbrook said. "But most of what local government boards and authorities deal with is that boring day-to-day stuff of dealing with sewer and paving roads and picking up trash in the snow. And after a while those are the big issues they come to bear, the real things that government is there for. That stuff still has to be done, no matter what your view politically is."

Hall County Public Information Officer Nikki Young said county employees are taking the changes in stride.

"Nothing has really changed for most of our employees. Most people are not affected directly by who the county administrator is," Young said.

County residents shouldn't be impacted much by the transition in administration.

"The day-to-day functions that we perform as a government have not changed," Young said. "Our employees go to work every day and ... provide all the essential services that the county has always provided."

 

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