New Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner listens as Commissioner Gail Hambrick asks a question at their first meeting of the year Wednesday night. Turner made his presence felt immediately when County Manager Wade Starr was fired in the first step toward a shake-up of the county government's structure.
JONESBORO County Manager Wade Starr was fired and his position was abolished as the Clayton County Board of Commissioners began to change their form of government Wednesday.
In a series of two 3-2 votes, the commission got rid of the county manager position and terminated Starr’s contract. The buyout for terminating his contract is the remainder of the salary owed to him under his contract, which is approximately $75,000. Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted against both actions.
The commission also did first reads on four ordinances which would create the positions of chief operating officer and chief financial officer. The stated purpose of the new positions is to assist new commission Chairman Jeff Turner in the management of more than 20 county departments.
“It’s a change in government, change in direction and change in leadership,” Turner said. “Any time you have a change in leadership, it’s expected to have a change in administrative staff ... It streamlines government and makes for more accountability.”
The commission will vote next Tuesday to approve the chief operations officer and chief financial officer positions and Turner said he hopes to have the jobs filled within 30 days. He said he didn’t know if anyone already inside the county will be promoted to those spots.
The changes would bring the county back to a “strong chairman” form of government, which was previously in place for years until Starr became county manager in September 2011, said former commission Chairman Eldrin Bell.
While Starr was county manager, the county operated under a “strong manager” form of government, Bell said.
The chief operating officer and chief financial officer will report to Turner, who is a member of the county commission but serves full-time as the head of county government and therefore has to oversee all of the government departments.
Bell said he supported the change and added he thought it would “put the chairman closer to the department heads.”
“It’s easier for the department heads to answer to one than some,” said Bell, referring to the fact that Starr answered directly to the commission and not to the chairman alone. “They often came to me frustrated about being told one thing and then told another. Give the chairman the opportunity to give direct orders and have the responsibility of seeing that they are carried out.”
Starr has been a controversial figure in county government for years. However, the shakeup was not meant to target the now ex-county manager, said Commission Vice-Chairman Michael Edmondson, who had the ordinances added to the agenda last week.
The structure adopted by the county commission was similar to a form recommended by a study the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute conducted for the county sometime between 2005 and 2006, he said.
“It’s not about paybacks,” Edmondson said. “This is about creating an effective, accountable and transparent government and it's consistent with the recommendations of the Carl Vinson Institute’s studies the county commissioned but never acted on.”
Turner was complimentary of Starr after the commission meeting, but he added the change was about “laying the foundation” for fulfilling his goals concerning the future direction of the county.
“I recognize the value Wade Starr brought as county manager,” Turner said. “He’s a smart guy and he did a lot, but unfortunately — for him, anyway — I want to move in a different direction.”
Starr did not attend the commission meeting.