As­sis­tant County Man­ager Tom Gar­rett to start Mon­day

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Tom Gar­rett will start as as­sis­tant county man­ager Mon­day, and he’s look­ing for­ward to us­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence and ed­u­ca­tion to serve the cit­i­zens and help the county run ef­fi­ciently.

Gar­rett, who had been the trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor, ac­cepted the Newton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers’ of­fer this week to be­come as­sis­tant county man­ager and be groomed to take over the top spot when County Man­ager John Middleton re­tires in Septem­ber.

Gar­rett’s salary will be $82,316, half­way be­tween his prior salary of $78,644 and Middleton’s salary of $85,987.20. County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig, who cre­ated the job de­scrip­tion, said the salary must still be ap­proved by the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers. The job de­scrip­tion was not sent to The News Fri­day.

Meet Tom Gar­rett

“I’m hum­bled by the op­por­tu­nity and the con­fi­dence that the board has shown, and ex­cited. I just want to make sure I get as much train­ing and in­for­ma­tion from Mr. Middleton as I can as I have the op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether,” Gar­rett said Fri­day af­ter­noon.

“I want to use the train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve had, not only in work­ing for the county, but the ed­u­ca­tion and all that. Grow­ing up in the area, I want to serve the cit­i­zens the best I can, serve the res­i­dents and hope­fully help the (Board of Com­mis­sion­ers) be good ste­wards of the tax dol­lars and pro­vide the best ser­vices we can.”

Gar­rett, 35, ini­tially worked for Newton County as an as­sis­tant county engi­neer from Oc­to­ber 2005 to March 2006, spe­cial­iz­ing in drainage projects and over­see­ing the NPDES (Na­tional Pol­lu­tant Dis­charge Elim­i­na­tion Sys­tem) per­mit pro­gram.

He left to be­come a part­ner with Lo­ganville-based Al­covy Sur­vey­ing and Engineering, where he did engineering con­sult­ing for lo­cal gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple projects for Ox­ford and Forsyth and Hall, Henry and Newton coun­ties. His other ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes work­ing with So­cial Cir­cle-based Hightower Con­sult­ing Engi­neers from June 2001 to Oc­to­ber 2005, ac­cord­ing to his per­son­nel file.

Gar­rett re­turned to Newton County in Fe­bru­ary 2011 as the pri­mary county engi­neer. Gar­rett, who earned a civil engineering bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Ge­or­gia Tech in 2001, was pur­su­ing a pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion mas­ter’s de­gree from Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity and said he wanted to put his ed­u­ca­tion to use.

“I saw the op­por­tu­nity to bring my skill set to the county and try to of­fer some help. The county was look­ing for some­one with de­sign ex­pe­ri­ence. Since I’ve been here, we’ve done sev­eral projects in- house,” Gar­rett said.

Af­ter the deep bud­get cuts of 2010, Newton County had no engi­neers left on staff and was hir­ing con­sul­tants to do many projects. Even small projects can cost sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars to be com­pleted by a con­sult­ing firm, but Gar­rett said an in-house engi­neer can do the work in a cou­ple of days.

Gar­rett de­signed road projects and even helped with de­signs for projects like the pavil­ions at the reser­voir. He also han­dled bid­ding out road projects. It can cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars for a con­sult­ing com­pany to de­sign such a project, pre­pare the bid doc­u­ments and re­view bids from con­struc­tion com­pa­nies.

He’s over­seen lots of resur­fac­ing projects across the county, in­clud­ing many SPLOST projects, rang­ing from $100,000 to $1.5 mil­lion.

He helped move the Ga. High­way 81 and Crow­ell Road in­ter­sec­tion project along; it was at a stand­still when he was hired and is fi­nally ready for con­struc­tion this year. The county had been wait­ing for the state to move on the project, but Gar­rett re­al­ized the county could move for­ward with the fund­ing it had.

He also served as project man­ager on the Mount Tabor Road bridge re­place­ment.

Gar­rett was pro­moted to trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor in June 2013, and went from over­see­ing three em­ploy­ees in the engineering depart­ment to 45 em­ploy­ees in engineering, pub­lic works and fleet main­te­nance.

He was tasked with re­or­ga­niz­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing the de­part­ments. By cross-train­ing em­ploy­ees – as­sis­tant road su­per­in­ten­dent Chris Mal­com led this ef­fort – on dif­fer­ent pieces of equip­ment, pub­lic works crews were able to work more of­ten, even if work­ers were out sick or on va­ca­tion. The re­sult was less down time and more paving, Gar­rett said.

The county laid 18,700 tons of asphalt in 2013, 39 per­cent higher than the 13,400-ton av­er­age of the pre­vi­ous four years.

“There’s been lots of on-the-job train­ing, and it’s been very suc­cess­ful. We’ve got a num­ber of peo­ple who 12 months ago, had never re­ally run a cer­tain piece of equip­ment, gain­ing con­fi­dence,” Gar­rett said. “It makes you more pro­duc­tive for the county and makes you more mar­ketable for your­self.”

Nu­mer­ous times dur­ing the in­ter­view, Gar­rett down­played his suc­cess and gave credit to Chair­man Keith El­lis, Middleton and the county’s com­mis­sion­ers for sup­port­ing the pro­posed changes and em­ploy­ees.

Gar­rett lives in Wal­ton County, where his fam­ily has lived for mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions. He’ll have been mar­ried for 10 years in May and has two chil­dren; the fam­ily at­tends Corinth Chris­tian Church.

How tran­si­tion will work

“The tran­si­tion pe­riod will be chal­leng­ing and very busy,” Gar­rett said Fri­day, ac­knowl­edg­ing many de­tails still have to be worked out.

Chair­man El­lis said pre­vi­ously the county is not plan­ning to hire a re­place­ment trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor in at least the short term, and it re­mains to be seen how much time Gar­rett will con­tinue spend­ing on trans­porta­tion projects.

El­lis said there are some projects that Gar­rett will likely have to fin­ish, but com­mis­sion­ers moved quickly to make Gar­rett as­sis­tant county man­ager be­cause they wanted him to learn as much from Middleton as pos­si­ble.

El­lis said his plan is for Gar­rett’s in­creased salary to come out of the pub­lic works depart­ment for the time be­ing to avoid any bud­get crunch.

Some res­i­dents have ques­tioned the ad­di­tion of another high-salar­ied po­si­tion. Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas said last week that the as­sis­tant county man­ager po­si­tion is a tem­po­rary one that will cease to ex­ist when Gar­rett is of­fi­cially pro­moted to county man­ager later this year.

Mul­ti­ple com­mis­sion­ers said this week the rea­son for mov­ing so quickly to hire Gar­rett, and forego an of­fi­cial job search and in­ter­views, was be­cause of con­cerns over Middleton’s health and how long Middleton would want and con­tinue to be able to work.

Middleton said in an email last week that he plans to work un­til Septem­ber and then take his va­ca­tion time.

Ques­tion­ing the process

Some res­i­dents have also ques­tioned the use of closed (also called ex­ec­u­tive) ses­sion Tues­day re­lated to cre­at­ing a new po­si­tion and im­me­di­ately fill­ing it, par­tic­u­larly since the board said Tues­day it was go­ing into ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion un­der “suc­ces­sion plan­ning.”

Dis­cus­sions of process are not al­lowed to be held in closed ses­sion, but when The News ex­pressed con­cern to the county at­tor­ney Tues­day be­fore the closed ses­sion, Craig said spe­cific can­di­dates would be dis­cussed, which would be al­lowed in closed ses­sion.

Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz said Thurs­day she did ex­press con­cern at one point in the closed ses­sion about what the board was dis­cussing, but the meet­ing was not opened to the pub­lic at that time.

Ge­or­gia Press As­so­ci­a­tion at­tor­ney David Hud­son said the de­ci­sion to cre­ate another po­si­tion should take place in open ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to Ge­or­gia’s open meet­ings law. How­ever, there does not ap­pear to be any state le­gal re­quire­ment to of­fi­cially post a po­si­tion be­fore a hire is made.

Tech­ni­cally, when the county pre­pares to of­fi­cially hire its next county man­ager, the pub­lic can re­quest doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the three fi­nal­ists for the po­si­tion (as is the case for any chief ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion for any gov­ern­ment). How­ever, if the county has not of­fi­cially posted the job of county man­ager, there would be no other of­fi­cial can­di­dates be­sides Gar­rett.

Gar­rett

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