A controversial figure in Clayton County politics, a former Florida village manager, who received a controversial severance package from his last job, and a Fulton County risk manager have emerged as the finalists for Clayton’s newly created county manager position.
Records obtained from the county last week show the Clayton County Board of Commissioners recently interviewed Clayton’s Director of Fleet Maintenance Wade Starr, former Islamorada (Fla.) ViIlage Manager Kenneth Robert Fields, and Fulton County Risk Manager Eldridge Allen Morris.
The county confirmed Starr, Fields and Morris as the only finalists for the position, on Friday. “I had asked them [county commissioners] to release the names of the finalists to the public, and they offered to release the names [just] before the [Sept. 6 county commission meeting], so people could make their comments at that time,” said Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell.
A decision on who will be hired is expected to come soon, but it is not completely clear when someone will be picked. Bell said he believes commissioners are “prepared to make a decision” as early as the Sept. 6 commission meeting. But Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said in a written statement that “the BOC is now deliberating on the finalists, and I am not sure when the board will make a decision.” The commission previously set the position’s annual salary at $140,000 to $150,000.
All three finalists carry some degree of managerial experience.
• Wade Starr
Starr is a long-time county employee and Jonesboro High School graduate. He holds a bachelor’s degree in social science education from Fort Valley State College, and a master’s degree in social work from Atlanta University, according to his resume.
At one time, he held more than one position in county government, including his fleet maintenance job, and director of policy and planning. His current annual salary, for the fleet maintenance position is $103,000, according to his application for the county manager position.
Starr was a state representative during the Georgia General Assembly’s 2007-2008 legislative session. His application shows he served as an administrative assistant to former Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray, from 2001 to 2005; operated a real estate business in Stockbridge from 1994 to 2007, and was a district sales manager for Allstate Insurance Company, in the Atlanta area, from 1987 to 1994.
Between 1976 and 1987, according to his resume, Starr performed stints as the coordinator of admissions for the state’s Division of Youth Services, was the director of the Griffin Regional Youth Development Center, a dock foreman for Roadway Express in Atlanta, and served as the director of the South Metro Psycho-Educational Center’s adolescent day program.
County election records show Starr ran for the commission chairman position in 2004, but finished second in the Democratic Party primary to eventual winner, Eldrin Bell. Bell has been the commission chairman since Jan. 1, 2005.
Starr’s application for the county manager position shows he is the only finalist who listed any relatives as Clayton County employees. His daughter, Shada Starr; his son, Keenan Starr, and his brothers, Danny and Kenneth Starr, are employees of the county, according to Wade Starr’s application.
Starr could not be reached for comment Monday.
Fields, a resident of Boca Raton, Fla., holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and operations research from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University. He served as the village manager of the Islamorada, Fla., village of islands, in the Florida Keys, from 2008 to 2010, earning an annual salary of $162,000, according to his county manager application.
His application also shows that, prior to his time in Islamorada, he worked as an executive administrative officer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in Hollywood, Fla., from 2002 to 2006, where he oversaw the financing and construction of a new casino complex. He also served as the City of Hollywood’s (Fla.) assistant city manager and director of the offices of management and budget, from 1994 to 2002.
Before he worked for the City of Hollywood, Fields worked for the City of Pittsburgh, Pa., Carnegie Mellon University, and the non-profit Arthur Young and Company, according to his application.
After nearly 20 years in Florida, Fields said he applied for the Clayton County position because “Atlanta is a city that I would be interested in relocating to.” He added that his female “significant other” also has relatives who live in the Atlanta area, “so she’ll be glad to be closer to them.”
Fields said that he will, if picked to be county manager, “do whatever the commission wants me to do,” but he added his managerial background will be beneficial in helping to create a new position that will signify a fundamental shift in county organization. Many of the new position’s administrative duties are now performed by Bell, in his role as commission chairman.
“It’s an opportunity to sort of say, ‘Let’s modernize the governance structure in the county,’” Fields said. He added that creating a “professional manager” within the county’s government is “good from a policy point of view.”
Morris, a native of New Orleans, La., holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, according to his application. He has been a risk manager for Fulton County since November 2001, and currently makes $102,750 per year.
According to his resume, he was a consultant for Managed Comp. Group, in Atlanta, from 2000 to 2001; a program manager for Alpharetta-based Automated Data Processing, from 1998 to 2000; a manager for National Trust Insurance Company, in Atlanta, from 1985 to 1997, and a risk control consultant for Ruston, La.-based Commercial Union Insurance Company, from 1980 to 1985.
His resume shows he holds a professional designation as an associate in risk management, and has sat on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Public Risk Management Association. The Fulton County Arts Council also lists Morris as a member of its Public Art Committee, on its web site.
Morris could not be reached for comment.
Two finalists carry baggage
Starr is a controversial finalist, because he has long been accused by some residents of being a behind-the-scenes power player in the county’s government. During county commissioner elections in 2010, a flyer was circulated depicting Starr and former Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas as alleged puppet masters controlling commissioners.
Some commission observers have also repeatedly accused commissioners of creating the county manager position specifically for Starr. Ralph, in his written statement, deferred all questions about how the three finalists were picked to Clayton Human Resources Director Renee Bright, but his statement arrived Monday after county offices were closed for the day.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Fields’ resignation as Islamorada’s village manager, in September 2010, caused a stir in that small community. The Islamorada Free Press reported at the time that the village council had disputed items within a budget Fields had put together for the community. The former village manager confirmed there were budget disputes, but he said a new village council had been elected, and it wanted to go in a different direction from the previous council.
“I was hired by the previous council to do certain things, and then a new council was elected; it wanted to go in a different policy direction,” Fields said. “They [the new council members] turned policy in a new direction, and didn’t want me doing the things I had been doing. Under those circumstances, I decided it would be best for me to resign.”
At the time of his resignation in Islamorada, the Islamorada Free Press reported that the community’s village council granted Fields a nine-month, $200,000 severance package with full health benefits, and permission to keep his work computer. The newspaper later reported that the package was decreased to a six-month deal, including a $160,000 pay out, after a public outcry over the original deal.
Fields disputed the news reports, however, saying they were “not even close to being true.” He said he received approximately $80,000 in severance pay, and a “typical” benefits package. “I got six months of pay, plus my accumulated vacation days, and half of my accumulated sick leave days,” he said.
News reports from Florida also show Fields’ name has popped up in several city manager searches in the state since his resignation from Islamorada. Most recently, the Sebring, Fla.-based News Sun newspaper reported that he interviewed for the Avon Park (Fla.) city manager position on Aug. 19, just three days after he interviewed with Clayton County Commissioners in Jonesboro.
The News Sun also reported last week that Fields withdrew his name from the Avon Park search on Aug. 22, just hours before the Avon Park City Council was scheduled to vote to name a new city manager. Fields declined to go into specifics about why he pulled himself out of contention for the Avon Park position, other than to say he “did not feel it was the right fit.”