Many Citizens At Walker County Meeting Urge Commissioners To Work Out Differences With Chairman Shannon Whitfield

Thursday, May 26, 2022
Walker County Commission
Walker County Commission

Many citizens attending a packed meeting of the Walker County Commission on Thursday night urged commissioners to work out their differences with Chairman Shannon Whitfield.

A number of those who spoke at the lengthy session said they were concerned about the high cost of adding a county manager and the fact there might be expensive turnover in that position.

The meeting did reveal strong frustrations by some of the commissioners with Chairman Whitfield, who previously was the sole commissioner prior to the change of government 18 months ago.

Commissioner Mark Askew claimed that Chairman Whitfield had "slow walked" several issues and said actions passed by the commission often got stalled.

He said, "You've ignored or slow walked things. That's why we're here. We make decisions, then they sit there."

Commissioner Askew said, "It's high time after a year and a half and 30 meetings" to look into the hiring of a county manager, who would take over many of the duties now handled by Chairman Whitfield.

He did acknowledge that Chairman Whitfield "does a great job with the budget and the county's money."

Vice Chairman Robert Blakemore, who joined with Commissioner Askew to call for the county manager discussion, said currently on many issues "our hands are tied behind our backs."

Commissioner Robert Stultz was also vocal, saying, "To sum it up in one word, it's frustration." He said the chairman had poor communication with the commissioners and they were left out of key decisions.

Saying that "we've hit a bottleneck," he said citizens deserved services "in a timely manner." 

He said animal control was one of the biggest unresolved issues. He said a decision was made over a year prior to bring into an animal control officer to head both the animal shelter and the animal control, but there had been no action. Several citizens hit conditions at the animal shelter.

Commissioner Stultz said, "The issue is still on our chairman's desk."

He said a former Whitfield Oil employee had been hired for one position in the county government, but he said he did not have the qualifications.

Commissioner Stultz said, "I know this is a G-rated audience, but "this is damn frustrating."

Chairman Whitfield acknowledged he had "slow walked" on two issues. He said one was the animal control, saying a budget and positions had to be laid out. He said those were presented to the commissioners on Feb. 10, "and I was later told they didn't like any of it."

He also said he slow walked on a proposal that the county take over ball fields in Rossville. He said that would have required a lot of maintenance, and he said the county had no recreation department or budget.

Chairman Whitfield said there were other ways to help relieve him of some duties, including hiring of an administrative assistant. 

He said he gets about 100 business emails per day and tries to respond himself to all he can. 

Ken Jarrard, a local government attorney from Woodstock, Ga., who was hired by some of the commissioners to take a look at the county manager issue, said the commission had the authority to hire a city manager.

Chairman Whitfield now is over the day to day operations of the county, including hiring and firing and making decisions on merging or adding or deleting departments. The county manager would take over those jobs.

Attorney Jarrard said with that change it would be necessary for a majority of the commission to vote on back to back meetings to hire a city manager. The Secretary of State would need to be sent details of the changes.

He acknowledged that a county manager could cost the county in the range of $150,000 or more.

The attorney said only 29 of Georgia's 159 counties do not use a county manager. He said only two have more residents than Walker County's nearly 70,000 - Carroll County and Rockdale County.

He said governments now are heavily regulated and subject to litigation and liabilities and a county manager can help with that.

Attorney Jarrard is getting $200 per hour under a resolution passed by the Commission earlier. He said he believed his bill thus far was under $5,000.

County Attorney David Gottlieb said neither attorney Jarrard or the commissioners had consulted with him about use of the "secondary counsel."

Jim Pope told commissioners, "It seems like you are trying to make a complicated system out of a simple one. How about communicating with each other?" One of the commissioners replied that "sometimes it takes days to get in contact with the chairman."

Stanley Jackson said Carroll County has a much larger population than Walker County. "If they can get along without a county manager, why the heck can't Walker County?"

Dean Kelly, who was part of the committee that helped set up the commission form, said the average time a county manager stays around is two years. He said, "They're very expensive."

He added, "Having said that, Shannon may very well need some help."

Mr. Kelly recommended that another citizen task force be named to look into the situation and make a recommendation.

Stan Porter said, "What I'm hearing is a failure to communicate. Why don't you guys go fight it out and come back with a solution. You guys should sit down and work this out. That's a cheaper solution."

Jim Bowman, who said he has lived in the county for a year, said it's important that costs not be increased that could lead to higher taxes. He said, "We do not need to spend $150,000 or $300,000 for an additional level of government."

Nathan England said, "I don't want to pay more taxes. I don't want to pay for another form of government and another bureaucrat."

Richard Westbrook was among citizens asking for a referendum of citizens on the issue. Attorney Jarrard said there was not a government mechanism for that, though he said the political parties could sponsor straw polls.

Jill Wyse also favored a vote of the people, saying, "We should have something to say about this." She said county managers bring their own problems with them. Look at all the cat fighting and in fighting in Catoosa County."

Greg Wood said, "There seems to be a sense of contentiousness that has no place on this board." He said Commissioner Askew is "contentious to the point of being unprofessional." He stated, "You should come together and give these people the value they deserve."

Chairman Whitfield said he and Commissioner Askew had talked for two hours together earlier in the day.

Andrew Underwood pointed out that the county manager would have large powers, while "not being elected by the people."

Karen Bradley said, "Y'all really need to work together."

A speaker who said she had been one of the biggest critics of Chairman Whitfield said, "You are all men up here. You can handle this." She added, "This is a very big decision for the people not to be consulted."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attorney Ken Jarrard
Attorney Ken Jarrard

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