Nothing yet on Walker successor

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

No decision has been made regarding the next move in finding a new county manager.

Jim Walker resigned last week after a little more than a year on the job. He had been on paid administrative leave for about a week when he submitted his letter of resignation, effective May 10. County officials never publicly addressed the reason for his leave.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve the citizens and the great employees of Henry County,” Walker wrote. “I believe the time is right for me to step down as county manager and pursue other professional opportunities.”

Assistant County Manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews will continue to run the day-to-day operation of the county until the Board of Commissioners decides on the next course of action in hiring and naming a new county manager, according to an official county statement.

When contacted by the Times late last week, Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom-my Smith said that no move has been made to find Walker’s permanent replacement.

“The board has not discussed a plan for how they will select a county manager,” Smith stated in an email. “I have not received any thoughts from the commissioners when they might accept the county manager’s resignation.”

Walker was appointed March 25 of last year after a five-month search. He received a two-year contract extension March 3 of this year, with Smith casting the lone dissenting vote.

The county manager position has been the subject of plenty of controversy in recent months, although the duties of that position have not changed in years. It was addressed in some detail in House Bill 554 which passed in the most recent legislative session, drawn up after a request from the commissioners to clarify the county manager role as well as that of the commission chairman.

The legislation came on the heels of Smith’s decision in November to file a lawsuit against his colleagues, whom he claimed had usurped his authority in an unconstitutional manner. Smith acknowledged last week that his legal action became moot with the passage of HB 554.

“I have dropped my lawsuit,” he stated. “They merely changed the law.”

Smith also responded to a request for comment on an unrelated issue pertaining to the county’s legislative delegation. At the end of the May 5 regular board meeting, county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter addressed the matter of state Sen. Rick Jeffares, whose concurrent position as a board member of the Henry County Water Authority has been criticized as a conflict of interest. Bill Toney spoke earlier at that meeting during public comment time, saying that he was told by attorneys at the state Capitol that it was indeed a conflict.

Jaugstetter said he reached out to the Attorney General’s office as well as the Office of Legislative Counsel, and both offices sent letters stating that there is no conflict of interest. He said he would make copies of the letters for whichever commissioners desired to have them.

Smith has voted against Jeffares’ HCWA appointment each time it has come up during his term as chairman, and his personal opinion on the issue has not changed.

“I have not seen the letters that counsel spoke of at our last meeting,” he stated. “I feel that a sitting elected state official should not sit on a county appointed board.”