Assistant County Manager Tom Garrett to start Monday
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.