Wade Starr, a controversial figure in Clayton County politics and government, has been tapped by the Board of Commissioners to serve as county manager.
The commission voted 3-1 Tuesday night to appoint Starr, currently the county’s fleet maintenance director, to the newly created position. Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell voted against the appointment, while Commissioner Michael Edmondson was not present for the vote.
Starr was picked over two other finalists, including former Islamorada (Fla.) Village Manager Kenneth Fields, and Fulton County Risk Manager Eldridge Morris. Starr was granted a $150,000 annual salary by the commission.
Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said Starr, Fields and Morris were “strong candidates,” but he added that Starr’s personal connections to the county made him the best choice.
“Mr. Starr’s history in Clayton County, being born and raised in Clayton County, and having worked as the chief administrator’s assistant [under former Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Crandle Bray, from 2001 to 2005], makes him the best choice for this newly created position,” Ralph said.
Starr is a controversial pick, because some view him as a long-time, behind-the-scenes power broker in the county’s government. Some commission observers have long contended that he would get the position, if it was ever created. Starr was not present at the meeting Tuesday night, and could not be reached afterward, for comment.
Bell said the “terms of his [Starr’s] employment,” such as when he will begin serving as county manager, still have to be negotiated.
For a time, power was seemingly consolidated between Starr and former chief of Staff Alex Cohilas, with the two men holding as many as five positions in county government at one point. Cohilas retired in December 2010, and Starr gave up one of his two positions, the county policy and planning director’s job, in February.
County election records show that Starr ran for the commission chairman’s 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.
One county resident, Stella Gorman, who spoke during the meeting’s public comment section before Starr was appointed, said he should not have made it to the point of being a finalist, given the 2004 election results.
“I think it’s a slap in the face for you to hire somebody, who the county rejected in an election,” Gorman said. “He shouldn’t have even been considered. You could at least appreciate what the citizens of this county said before.”
Public opposition to Starr’s appointment continued later, when the commission took its vote on the position. When Ralph made the motion to appoint the fleet maintenance director to the job, one person in the audience could be heard exclaiming, “That’s not right!”
Despite the controversy surrounding his place in county government, Starr comes into the position with a diverse background that ranges from once being a state legislator, to working in the insurance industry, to also working in youth development and services.
Starr was a state representative during the Georgia General Assembly’s 2007-2008 legislative session. His application for the county manager position shows that, in addition to once being Bray’s administrative assistant, Starr also operated a real estate business in Stockbridge, and was a district sales manager for Allstate Insurance Company, in the Atlanta area.
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.
Starr’s application shows he has four relatives –– including daughter, Shada Starr, son, Keenan Starr, and brothers, Danny and Kenneth Starr –– who are employees of the county.
The county’s Civil Service Rules and Regulations has a nepotism policy that forbids someone from being appointed to a classified position in a department that a relative works in, but County Human Resources Director Renee Bright said that will not apply to the county manager’s job.
“It's an unclassified position, which means it is exempt from civil service protection,” Bright said. “Since it’s not a classified position, the civil service rules would not apply.”
Commission Chairman Bell said he voted against appointing Starr to the county manager’s position to stay in line with his prior vote in July against creating the position. “But ... whomever the board has decided to appoint, I will continue to work diligently with them, to carry out the county’s day-to-day business,” the chairman said.