New commission to choose leaders

Remade group to decide on chairman, new county manager and county attorney posts

Not only will three brand-new county commissioners be sworn in today (Jan. 2) at 6:30 p.m., but they will face some big decisions from the get-go as they undertake their very first meeting minutes later.

The biggest priority, and likely one of the biggest decisions the new commissioners will make during their entire four-year term, will be the hiring of a new county manager to replace the retiring Jack Krakeel. The commission is expected to ratify former Peachtree City councilman and current Union City Manager Steve Rapson as Fayette’s new county manager.

Rapson has the reputation of a budget guru which would seem to be a great fit for the county given the continued decline in property tax revenues and other income over the past several years in a trend that is not likely to reverse course immediately.

Another significant matter to resolve is which of the five commissioners will be the group’s chairman for the year. In addition to running the meetings and serving in multiple ceremonial capacities, the chairman also serves as the commission’s appointee to the Atlanta Regional Commission, the agency which controls state and federal transportation funds.

Holdover Commissioner Steve Brown has contended that the commission needs to demand more transportation funding from ARC officials. Brown is a proponent of additional spending on the interchange of Ga. Highway 74 North and Interstate 85 in Fairburn, just across the Fayette County line.

As for Rapson’s appointment, new commissioners Randy Ognio, David Barlow and Charles Oddo, along with holdover commissioners Brown and Allen McCarty, informally chose Rapson in October after interviewing a number of other candidates. But none of the outgoing commissioners were invited to participate in those interviews, and they declined to formally hire Rapson early in an effort to create a smooth leadership transition with the outgoing Krakeel.

The interview process was also ran afoul of the state’s new open meetings law which requires advance announcement of public meetings including committee meetings. Brown admitted that he did not notify local newspapers in advance about the meeting, which he chalked up to a lack of knowledge about the changes to the open meetings laws.

The resulting flap created such a stir that Commissioner Robert Horgan filed an open meetings complaint with the state attorney general’s office. Horgan said publicly that he would not vote for Rapson as county manager because at that point he hadn’t even met Rapson, much less had a chance to chat with him about county-related issues and his vision for county government.

In addition to the appointment of a new county manager and chairman, the county also has to deal with filling a vacancy in the county attorney’s position. The commission has used an in-house attorney in Scott Bennett for the past few years in an effort to save thousands of tax dollars, though some additional legal fees were spent using several private attorneys for other specialized matters including the pending district voting lawsuit filed in federal court by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several citizens.

The matter about the county attorney is listed on the commission’s agenda but there is no recommendation or detail about the options that will be discussed by the commission.

Likewise the agenda published prior to today’s meeting does not spell out any details on who will be chosen as county administrator.

In addition to all those crucial decisions, the commission also will consider eliminating its regular Wednesday afternoon workshop meetings that have been held for a number of years on the first Wednesday of each month. The meetings have been used largely to provide information to commissioners and also for staff to gauge interest in exploring ordinance and policy changes.

In most cases, the commission has avoided taking votes at those Wednesday workshop meetings while also not taking any public comment at those meetings, which are sparsely attended by citizens anyway.