County prepares to study positions|[12/23/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 23, 2005

Decision time is nearing for Warren County supervisors whose selections for four key positions and the board presidency and vice-presidency are expected Jan. 3.

The positions are board attorney, manager of the road department, county engineer and county administrator.

This year, with the other appointments seemingly safe, first-year County Administrator John Smith and the procedural position of board president may be in the crosshairs of debate.

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Smith, auditor for the City of Vicksburg for 18 years before he was appointed to succeed the retiring Rick Polk, enters the process on the heels of a challenging year.

Smith wrote a $12.9 million budget for fiscal 2005-06 that included across-the-board tax increases for the first time in 12 years, with the bulk of the hikes going toward technology upgrades in emergency dispatch.

Smith also oversaw the county’s efforts to get reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs the county incurred due to Hurricane Katrina.

Still, indications point to a close vote to retain his services as the county’s tracker of dollars and cents.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders was the lone dissenter against Smith in January and has given clear indications he will do so again, citing as a chief reason Smith’s unwillingness to help him support annual evaluations of county employees.

Following an informal meeting of supervisors Thursday, where the subject of reappointments was broached, Smith said the board itself would have to implement such performance evaluations.

&#8220They probably weren’t done before I got here and can’t be unless I get a clear direction from the board,” he said.

Flanders, not at Thursday’s meeting, said he tried to get the board to begin performance evaluations soon after he took office in 2004, but the motion died without a second.

District 1 Supervisor and board president David McDonald and District 5 Supervisor Richard George focused on Smith’s numbers crunching as the sole reason for retaining him.

&#8220We hired John for his accounting skills and budgetary prowess. We don’t have any business meddling in with other countywide elected officials’ people,” McDonald said.

&#8220What it comes down to is knowing the authority that you have. It’s pure and simple. Under the unit system of county government, the elected officials either create their own personnel management policy or adopt whatever the board of supervisors has. Those additional duties have never been assigned to the county administrator,” George said.

District 2 Supervisor William Banks, who will partake in his first reappointment vote Jan. 3, spoke little at the meeting but said later he was still making up his mind.

&#8220I’ll probably make it up over the weekend,” Banks said.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, not present at Thursday’s meeting, said this morning he had not had the opportunity to speak to Smith &#8220to discuss strengths and weaknesses,” but would form a solid view on how he will vote after he does so.

&#8220It’s still a questionable situation right now,” Selmon said.

As for the ceremonial position of board president, Flanders supports a rotation of the job, which entails chairing meetings.

He would be next in the rotation, as George, McDonald and Selmon have all served in the post at least one year in the past two terms.

&#8220Let’s grow and develop our leadership skills here,” Flanders said.

Selmon indicated this morning he also favors rotating the presidency, but is &#8220not against David because he’s done a great job as president.”

During the meeting, McDonald and George emphasized the importance of the speaking engagements at which the board president is usually asked to appear.

&#8220It’s a lot more important than saying ‘next year, next person,’” George said.

Board attorney Paul Winfield, appointed on a 3-2 vote last year, is finishing his first year and is likely to be reappointed.

Road manager Richard Winans is up for a second reappointment after taking over in May 2004. County engineer John McKee is up for reappointment to that post, as is ABMB Engineers, Inc. as the county engineering firm.