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Changes coming to planning post
Other duties, less protection possible
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Forsyth County News


Forsyth County's vacant director of planning and development post may be replaced by a director position with a broader job description and no civil service protection.

During a work session Tuesday, commissioners discussed the possibilities of deleting the current classification and adding a director of planning and economic development.

Following about 20 minutes of discussion, the five-member body voted unanimously to postpone the matter to a March 8 work session.

Pat Carson, the county's director of personnel services, said the position would be "expanded to reflect the additional responsibilities for economic development activities including county participation in regional economic development."

The county does not currently have an official in charge of economic development, though it does provide some funding to the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and the local Development Authority.

The changes in job description, however, were not the topic of discussion among commissioners.

Debate centered around who could hire, fire and discipline the director and whether the post should have civil service protection.

The planning director position was vacated in August when the commission voted 3-1 to fire Jeff Chance amid allegations that he failed to follow and comply with county policies.

Chance, under his civil service protection, appealed the dismissal to the County Civil Service Board, which upheld the commission's decision after an eight-day hearing last fall.

In December, the previous commission also voted 3-2 to remove language from the county's unified development code that gave it authority to make personnel decisions about the planning director.

As it was proposed, the new planning director position would fall under the discretion of the county manager.

Commissioner Patrick Bell expressed concern Tuesday about one person having full authority over a job "with no recourse."

"This is a difficult one because this position's a very sensitive position," Bell said.

Bell pointed to the planning director's authority to make decisions that can affect residents' homes and local business as reasons for its potential to be a "contentious" post.

He suggested the commission handle the hiring and firing of the planning official, but the county manager retain full authority in all other matters, including discipline and suspension.

The way the job description was proposed, Bell said he worried the county would not be able to recruit top-notch applicants.

"Can we get somebody to come if they know that one person could stroke them out of here and they're gone?" Bell said. "There's no appeal process. There's no nothing.

"I just don't think it's the right thing to do at this time. I don't think we offer a history of stability with our senior staff."

Chairman Brian Tam said an "at-will" position, as proposed, would allow a potential recruit to negotiate acceptable terms, such as a severance package.

Tam said some members of the previous commission were surprised to discover they could fire the planning director.

Years ago, he said, commissioners moved senior staff positions under the county manager's realm "not knowing that the director of planning and development was under the board."

County Manager Doug Derrer told the commission that several counties do not provide civil service protection for any employees.

Carson added that others do a combination of the two, such as Cherokee County, which provides civil service provisions only for lower level employees, while senior staff serve at will.

The commission has been trending toward this option by changing senior staff position descriptions.

"The will of this board in the past year was to move away from civil service positions with respect to the directors," Derrer said.

"We did that with the finance director position that is a non-contract employee that serves at will under the county manager."

Bell added that the move is aimed at bringing "more accountability" to the director positions.

Commissioners continued that move Tuesday by changing, in a 5-0 vote, the vacant director of information technology post to a new titled, non-civil service job.

The new position, director of information systems and technology, would take a more countywide look at "improving effectiveness and efficiency" in technology, Carson said.

Bell said this change differed from the possible planning director change in that it doesn't come with the same pressures.

The commission likely will need to change the unified development code, which requires two public hearings, before making a final change to the planning director job.

To allow time to consider the wording and ideas, that matter was postponed until next month.