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Board mulls options at manager
Vacancy may hinge on 'new majority'
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Forsyth County News

The future of Forsyth's top administrative post could be decided by two commissioners who won't return to office next year and a third who will.

Commissioners David Richard and Linda Ledbetter, whose terms expire at year's end, and Commissioner Brian Tam, who won re-election in July, voted Thursday to terminate the contract of County Manager Rhonda Poston-O'Connor.  

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse and Commissioner Jim Harrell voted against the measure.

Poston-O'Connor, the fourth person to hold the spot since 2004, will receive a nearly $157,000 severance package.

The decision came weeks after commissioners learned that $5 million of the county's savings was targeted to balance the current budget, though the money was never moved.

Laughinghouse said Monday he doesn't know how the county's recent hiring freeze would affect the position.

The board approved the freeze last month in an attempt to figure out how to offset a $9.6 million revenue shortfall in the county's budget.

"You'll have to talk to the present new majority to see what they're going to do," said Laughinghouse, referring to Ledbetter, Richard and Tam. "They're in charge."

Deputy County Manager Doug Derrer, who joined the local staff in January, has stepped in as interim county manager until a replacement is found.

Derrer previously worked for the government of nearby Hall County, retiring in December after more than 25 years of service.

Speculation has surfaced that Poston-O'Connor could return to Forsyth County government, possibly even in her old post, as early as January.

Such a turn of events likely would hinge on Commissioner-elect Jim Boff, who succeeds Ledbetter, siding with Laughinghouse and Harrell, both of whom backed his candidacy.

Ledbetter, who chose not to seek a second term, said the board hasn't discussed plans for Poston-O'Connor's replacement.

"If (Laughinghouse and Harrell) intend to hire her back in January, it would be foolish to relocate someone," she said. "So we've basically got to discuss it before a decision's made."

Ledbetter said she thinks Derrer would be a good replacement, but didn't know if he would take the job.

She said the board likely will decide what to do in the next month.

For his part, Derrer said Monday that "it's going real well, it's extremely busy."

"First and foremost, I want to reassure the staff, the board of commissioners and the community that operationally we'll continue to be responsive to the needs of the community," Derrer said.

"We want to make a seamless transition from the three executive management team members that we had back to two, and that's myself and the chief financial officer [Bill Thomas]."

Derrer said one of the primary focuses will be the current budget and preparing next year's budget. He said they are looking for any potential savings "to do everything we can to get that budget in order."

"The budget is something we work on daily," Derrer said. "We're actually in the process of developing some additional financial reports for the board of commissioners that will have a little bit different look to them and have some additional information for them so that they know exactly what they're dealing with in the budget."

Derrer said he would consider any offers to take the job on a permanent basis.

At the time of Derrer's hiring in January, county records showed the deputy county manager position paid between $76,000 and $123,000 annually and did not fall under civil service protection.

Poston-O'Connor's termination came just weeks shy of her one-year anniversary in the post. She also did not have civil service protection.

She served as interim county manager from April 2006 until her promotion in September 2007. She was hired in October 2005 as assistant county manager.

Provided that she was not fired for a felony or misdemeanor involving drug use or gross disregard for moral standards, her severance was to include an entire year's salary, either in one lump sum or monthly payments.

According to her contract, she could carry over up to 240 hours of compensatory time from year to year, any unused portion of which she could cash in at the end of her employment.