Misfiring on hiring Fayette’s new chief administrator
3 commissioners snubbed in process of interviewing replacement for Krakeel; former PTC Councilman Rapson is committee's choice
Invited to participate in the process of hiring the next administrator for Fayette County’s government, the three newly-elected county commissioners have joined the two holdover commissioners in endorsing Peachtree City resident and current Union City City Manager Steve Rapson.
In the process of doing so, however, all five commissioners may have violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Law — which requires that all committee meetings of a public agency be advertised in advance.
Moreover, the newly-elected commissioners, joined by holdover commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty, created a stir by conducting the candidate interviews without inviting outgoing county commissioners Robert Horgan, Lee Hearn and Herb Frady: whom they are now asking to rubber-stamp their selection of Rapson as the next county administrator.
It’s a rather rocky start for new commissioners David Barlow, Randy Ognio and Charles Oddo considering that each campaigned on improving transparency in county government. The three were asked to participate in the hiring process but were never appointed by the commission as an official committee.
Yet under the new language in the Georgia open meetings act, their meeting was required to be advertised in advance “if any official business, or policy or public matter of the committee is formulated, presented, discussed or voted upon.”
The incoming commissioners were provided with data and information on each candidate who applied, and at the conclusion of their meetings Tuesday, they made a recommendation to hire Rapson as the next county manager.
The new law took effect July 1 but Brown said the agency that helps train and advise county commissioners across the state had not sent any information to him to alert him of the requirements of the new law.
Horgan said this week that he couldn’t possibly vote to install anyone as county manager without having at least spoken with that person first.
“I’m not going to vote on somebody I haven’t even had a chance to talk to,” Horgan said, adding that he still has responsibility as a commissioner until his term ends Dec. 31.
Horgan said he thinks the matter will be discussed at the commission’s workshop meeting that starts today (Oct. 3) at 3:30 p.m. at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.
Barlow, Ognio and Oddo haven’t even been sworn in yet, much less trained on Georgia’s open meetings laws, unlike sitting commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty, who both have received such training.
Brown says he is the only person to blame because he was relying on the old open meetings law and not the new one. Brown said his fellow commissioners were trusting him to handle the matter appropriately.
“I take total responsibility,” said Brown, adding that he would release minutes of the meetings based on notes he took, and if necessary the new commissioners would meet again to handle the matter after advertising it appropriately for public notice. “We didn’t want to hide anything. I just had no idea about that new requirement as part of the new law. I had no idea that was even in there.”
Brown called The Citizen Tuesday to provide a belated notice of the meetings, after the committee had already interviewed one of the five finalists for the position. He informed The Citizen about the timing for the next interviews scheduled later that same day.
Brown said he had not inquired with County Attorney Scott Bennett prior to the meeting to learn about the laws the committee would need to follow. Instead, Brown said he sought that advice from two other private attorneys who have municipal experience. Neither of those attorneys were privy to the new change in the law, Brown said.
As for Horgan’s insistence to at least meet and speak with Rapson, Brown said if the roles were reversed and if he were the outgoing commissioner, he would have no problem voting for a new county manager as recommended by the new incoming commission members.
“I would say yes, I would do it, yes. It’s their administration,” Brown said after he was asked for a direct answer to the same question a third time during the interview.
Brown said he strongly encouraged Rapson to apply for the job based on their work together on the Peachtree City Council during the last decade.
“When I called Rapson, I was saying ‘Please, I’m begging you to think about taking this job,’” Brown said. “... I’ve followed the guy, known every job he has had, worked with him previously, I’ve seen him in action and I know how he thinks and what he thinks. I know his process and dang, he’s just the guy. ... Chuck, Randy, David and Allen had never met him but when they got through with the interview there was no doubt in their minds he was the guy. That’s how definitive it was.”
Oddo took to the podium at Thursday night’s commission meeting to thank the commission for enabling them to participate in the process. It wasn’t until after the meeting, however, that Frady, Hearn and Horgan were handed a sheet of paper signed by the 2013 commissioners recommending Rapson as the next county administrator.
Brown also claimed there might be resistance to hiring Rapson because of his reputation for handling budgets, on the fear that Rapson “might find something” inappropriate in previous budgets. But even if the matter ends up being delayed until Jan. 1 when the new commissioners are sworn in, Rapson will certainly be Fayette’s next county administrator, Brown pledged.
“The top three issues for us are the budget, the budget and the budget, and nobody has the acumen to handle that like Rapson does,” Brown said.
On the open meetings matter, Brown noted that he is also a dues-paying member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and the foundation is slated later this month to hold its first training meeting on the new law.