County de­serves stronger lead­er­ship

The Covington News - - OPINION -

A sim­ple ques­tion doesn’t have an easy an­swer. But it should. Who runs New­ton County’s govern­ment? Well, it’s Chair­man Keith El­lis, right? He was elected; he is paid a full-time lead­er­ship salary. But what about John Mid­dle­ton — isn’t he the ap­pointed full­time county man­ager? But he’s re­tir­ing. So that leaves Tom Gar­rett? He, af­ter all, is the as­sis­tant county man­ager, the man­ager-in-wait­ing.

New­ton County is a coun­cil-man­ager form of govern­ment, but El­lis has taken the lead for many of the county’s is­sues, in­clud­ing the hot-topic 2050 Plan.

Ac­cord­ing to a def­i­ni­tion by the In­ter­na­tional City/ Coun­cil Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, the coun­cil-man­ager form of govern­ment works with a man­ager ap­pointed by the elected gov­ern­ing body. This man­ager over­sees the ad­min­is­tra­tive op­er­a­tions, im­ple­ments its poli­cies and ad­vises it — runs the gov­ern­ing body. The same or­ga­ni­za­tion de­fines a mayor or chair­man as a cer­e­mo­nial ti­tle.

Fol­low­ing the pub­lic dis­cus­sions on the 2050 Plan — some­thing that has been in the works in New­ton County since the early 2000s — we have been told some politi­cians are ready to throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter, so to speak.

Ac­cord­ing to def­i­ni­tions in a coun­cil-man­ager govern­ment, El­lis shouldn’t have the au­thor­ity over pol­icy un­less it is ap­proved by the ma­jor­ity of com­mis­sion­ers. In re­al­ity the person who should be out front is the one who has power over pol­icy. That would be the Mid­dle­ton, or the person be­ing groomed as the next man­ager af­ter Mid­dle­ton, Gar­rett.

We feel the up­roar and un­easi­ness on the 2050 Plan could be tem­pered if we had in­spired lead­er­ship from county officials.

We also feel that our lead­ers should be mak­ing the point that the 2050 Plan and its ideas brought on by the lead­er­ship col­lab­o­ra­tive were partly re­spon­si­ble for the lo­ca­tion of Bax­ter In­ter­na­tional to our com­mu­nity, plus other county de­vel­op­ments. This and other points could be made by our county man­agers, who do not have to worry about the thoughts of the vot­ing pub­lic in mak­ing de­ci­sions for this gen­er­a­tion and the next of New­ton County res­i­dents.

In a re­cent meet­ing at Flat Shoals Ele­men­tary con­cern­ing the 2050 Plan, El­lis asked the crowd of about 200 to raise their hands if they had con­fi­dence in his lead­er­ship. Per­haps 15 hands were raised. For him, that was a poll of his hir­ing man­agers.

Not so for Mid­dle­ton and Gar­rett. They can con­tinue to work on the best in­ter­ests of the county with­out a pub­lic and vo­cal out­cry in­flu­enc­ing them.

We sug­gest that it is past time for our five com­mis­sion­ers to in­form their equal as­so­ciate that he does not rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of the board and he has no right to be the spokesman on their voted pol­icy. We would hope that they would then have the courage to ap­point their county man­ager des­ig­nate Gar­rett as their of­fi­cial spokesman and that they make clear to El­lis that he would be bet­ter suited to do the job he was elected for which in­cludes go­ing to rib­bon cut­tings and chair­ing meet­ings.

While the BOC is ex­plain­ing to the chair­man what his proper place in county man­age­ment is, maybe they could start the process of pay­ing the county chair­man a salary that is more ap­pro­pri­ate for his cer­e­mo­nial du­ties.

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