Changes keep coming in Henry County’s government. With the unanimous selection, Friday, of Board of Education Chairman Brian Preston as the new District II Commissioner, the search is now on for someone to represent the District II school board post he left.
Preston, an accountant and financial advisor, takes the seat which was vacated, Wednesday, by former county commissioner, Fred Auletta, who resigned, so he could be named Deputy County Manager.
The leadership in District II has seen its share of turnover in recent years. Rick Jeffares was elected to that commission seat in 2008, before stepping down to run for the State Senate District 17 seat, which he ultimately won. Monroe Roark briefly held the District II position, until Auletta was elected in 2010.
Preston said he hopes his selection will add continuity to District II, as a commissioner. “I am planning on seeking election for this post in the upcoming primary, as well as the general election,” Preston emphasized. He resigned from the school board, effective Friday morning. The new commissioner said he has been in “close contact” with Henry County Schools Superintendent Ethan Hildreth, and other Board of Education members, to determine their next move.
The school system’s communications specialist, J.D. Hardin, said Preston’s appointment comes as no surprise. “He has served the county’s youth on the Board of Education and was a spearhead for the E2 initiative, which brought together the business and education communities,” said Hardin. “He helped guide our system through a time of explosive growth during his tenure.
“The remaining board members will now work to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Mr. Preston’s term during an upcoming meeting,” Hardin continued. “After the vacancy has been filled, the Board of Education will vote on a new chairman. The vacated seat is up for re-election during the next general election, and the person appointed to fill the remainder of Mr. Preston’s term will have the opportunity to run for the post during the general election.”
Others who submitted their names for the District II commission seat were: Arley Lowe, John Palmer, Roy Clack, Brian Strickland, Dan Judson and Kathy Watts. Preston was nominated by District III Commissioner Randy Stamey. At the special board session, Stamey was named commission vice chairman, to succeed Auletta.
Auletta resigned Wednesday, to fill the county manager slot, after former Henry County manager, James C. “Butch” Sanders, resigned on Monday. Auletta was named Deputy County Manager, instead, because of a sang in the process. He is expected to handle many of the duties normally earmarked for a county manager, but his designation as county manager is being delayed because of what officials see as ambiguity in the eligibility requirements for the county manager post.
Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis, on Thursday, said she spoke with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, for advice on the matter. “He agreed that the simplest, and easiest way, to clear up any questions about the intent of that sentence [in the county’s ordinance] was to appoint Mr. Auletta as Deputy County Manager, advertise the change to the ordinance, and simply change his title to County Manager, once the amended language is adopted,” said Mathis.
County leaders are working to determine whether Preston’s appointment will extend through the general election in November, or if it will end on Jan. 1, 2013. Regardless, Preston said he plans to focus on the needs in his district. One area he said will receive his particular attention is economic development.
“We’ve got to get more jobs in Henry County,” he said. “I don’t want everybody to feel like they have to drive north to work. I want to get more jobs, and I’m hoping these guys are going to show me the ropes, and we’re going to work together on making sure that happens.”
Mathis acknowledged Preston’s appointment concludes a hectic week for county leaders. “It just goes to show, in county government, you always have to be fluid,” she said. “You never know what changes are coming down the pipeline. You have to be ready to deal with those.
“I’m very excited about Brian coming on the Board of Commissioners,” she continued. “We’ve worked closely together as he’s been on the Board of Education. He’s extremely intelligent — a very successful businessman, someone who has invested many, many hours of energy and effort into this community.”
The chairman said Preston’s appointment to the commission, with Auletta poised to become county manager, officially, is crucial as county leaders are preparing for impending budget talks.
“The budget is going to dominate our discussions, and dominate our thoughts until we get that adopted,” said Mathis. “I can’t think of a better time, since I’ve been in office, that it seems like we have the right people in the right places, moving in the right direction. This budget is going to be very challenging, because we’re anticipating a 15-to-20-percent drop again this year [in Henry’s tax digest]. To have these two gentlemen with such a strong financial background is going to be a huge benefit to the citizens of this county as we navigate the process.”