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BOC creates chief of staff spot

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners created a chief of staff position, and then voted to appoint county fire chief Alex Cohilas.

The ordinance was sponsored by Commissioner Michael Edmondson, and passed by a 3-2 vote last week, with Chairman Eldrin Bell and out-going Commissioner Virginia Gray opposing it.

"The county needs administrative help," Edmondson said. "Eldrin Bell himself said the county needs help. This is to move us forward. It was not meant to be a controversial thing."

Bell, who has pushed for an administrative assistant, said he thought the move was meant to limit his power, and he wanted a highly rated professional in business administration.

"I have no problem with saying there is a need," Bell said Thursday, "but what we have done now is reduce the standards and brought in a person with limited experience in these areas."

On Friday, in the middle of his third day as chief of staff, Cohilas said he had met with Bell, they had heard each other's concerns.

"It was an excellent, productive meeting, and I'm proceeding on his direction, as well as that of the rest of the board."

Cohilas said he started Wednesday morning by meeting with all the county department heads, and looking for ways to cut budgets without job cuts or furloughs.

"I believe we have very good departments and employees," Cohilas said. "We want everyone to reach their maximum potential and work so we can replicate the fire department's effectiveness, efficiency and excellence."

Cohilas will also continue as chief of the county's fire department and director of emergency management. He has received a 10 percent raise, as is still being paid out the fire department's budget.

Cohilas said the promotion will mean he has to delegate more to his staff of two assistant chiefs and four deputy chiefs, but they are "trained to the point they can take higher responsibility."

The chief plans to maintain "final decisions on all matters of vital importance," but noted he doesn't have to "run every call." He said he doesn't expect to have any trouble doing both jobs, noting that CEOs at major corporations often manage more than one company at a time. In the first few days as chief and chief of staff, he worked 17 1/2 hours a day, but he downplayed it. "I just travel between Jonesboro and Riverdale," he said, "and I'm used to being on-call for 24-hours a day."

For Cohilas, the double-duty might serve as an example of what the county needs.

"We're all going to have to be leaner and more efficient," Cohilas said.