How much differently will the Fayette County Board of Commissioners conduct its business with Charles Oddo as chairman?
Not much, if Oddo has anything to say about it.
“Our goals and objectives don’t differ that much,” Oddo said in an interview Jan. 12 when comparing himself to the previous chairman, Steve Brown. “We both want what’s best for the county. I’m not planning on making wholesale changes, although I do want to do things a little bit differently.”
Oddo said repeatedly that he has much respect for the job Brown has done the past two years, but he will take a slightly different approach.
“We just have a different style of doing things,” he said. “Steve is a hands-on guy; he likes to have his hands in a lot of things, and I understand that. In my business I do that. But as chairman, with a staff of almost 700 people, I don’t think that’s necessary. We can probably accomplish more by overseeing and delegating where we need to delegate.”
Brown lost the chairmanship the previous week on a 3-to-2 vote. Republicans Oddo and David Barlow joined with newly elected Democrat Pota Coston to deprive Brown of his spotlight position. Commissioner Randy Ognio supported Brown.
Oddo then joined Barlow to elect rookie Commissioner Coston as vice-chairman of the board.
Brown afterwards bitterly noted Barlow’s support of Coston just a few weeks after Barlow complained about “Demoncrats” and district voting.
Oddo said he spoke with Brown a year ago around the time of the annual chair appointment about leadership styles and was disappointed to find that private conversation later recounted in the newspaper. Amid the public squabbling between Brown and fellow Commissioner David Barlow, Oddo wants to stress that he has no personal agenda of any kind.
“I want people to know that there is absolutely no animosity toward Steve on my part. He is a very competent and very skilled person. We just have different styles, and now this is an opportunity to do the job with my style,” he said.
“It’s [chair] not just about one person; you have to have support, and he had the support of four other commissioners, which is what I anticipate I’ll have as well.”
Oddo acknowledged that when he, Barlow and Pota Coston cast their votes to make him chairman, they may not have all done it for the same reasons.
“I’ve done my best the last two years to walk the tightrope between personalities, and it’s not always an easy thing. All I can say is that I am me, and I do not care to speak badly about anybody,” he said. “Everyone has some good points. Hopefully by me taking the chair we can push some of this to the sidelines and it won’t take center stage anymore.
“It’s time for someone to step up and get us reoriented, and maybe that’s my job with this commission. It’s not a knock on anybody.”
Oddo also stressed that he believes he is surrounded by four good commissioners who will work together for the good of the entire county. One of the first things on his to-do list is finding out what their individual priorities are.
“The chairman does takes his lead from the board. He may not always agree with what the board wants, but once there is a consensus he tries to go down that road and get that done. That is the approach I want to take,” he said. “I want my four compatriots to give me their input, and together we’ll come up with an agenda. That’s how I hope to do this.”
One new responsibility for Oddo will be sitting on the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission, something into which Brown has put a great deal of effort and spoken about very publicly when issues he felt strongly about were at the fore.
“There is definitely going to be a learning curve,” Oddo admitted about his ARC service, saying that he will rely on Brown and others to help him with information to get him up to speed.
“With the ARC it’s more of what the citizens want, and that’s what we go after. I have a good feel for that,” he said. “It’s going to be a matter of getting acquainted with the people up there, getting to know them and proceeding from there. I’ll be in a room with people from all over metro Atlanta and we’ll be fighting for our share.”
Oddo expects the board to address the district voting issue in due time. The commissioners were briefed by counsel in executive session at the Jan. 8 meeting, but there is not yet enough information to make a decision, he said.
Regardless of where they stand on that issue, Oddo intends to continue focusing on the entire county rather than just one district, and he thinks he fellow commissioners will do the same.
“We sink or swim together; we don’t want to find ourselves fighting for scarce budget dollars,” he said. “We need reasonable people in each district looking out for the county as a whole. That’s how we’ve always done it, and I don’t anticipate doing it any differently.”
Oddo compared the board to a jigsaw puzzle with five pieces.
“You can’t change those pieces. You have to work to make them fit,” he said.
As for the appointment of brand-new commissioner Pota Coston, the lone Democrat on the board, as vice chair, Oddo pointed out that he was also appointed to that post at his first meeting two years ago.
“I had never been in politics before,” he said about that time. “I did a pretty good job, and I didn’t see anything in my job that made it Republican or Democrat. You just need good, competent people and Ms. Coston is extremely qualified. There is no reason why she can’t do a good job.”
The new chairman doesn’t look at the issues facing Fayette County as being as divisive as the traditional liberal-vs.-conservative issues on the national scene.
“We have to pay our bills just like everyone else in Fayette County, and we have a limited budget,” he said. “Ours is balanced, and that’s the way we’re going to keep it.”
Walking into last week’s meeting just before it began, after numerous flight delays on the way back home from his overseas Christmas holiday, Oddo had little time to process what would soon be happening while working on 36 hours with no sleep and still fighting a cold that made it difficult for him to be heard over the P.A. system at the meeting.
“It was not the most opportune time for me to get there, and I realized that might not have been the best way for this thing to come about,” he said.
“This is not a position that I’m just dying to have. The only reason I decided to do this, and I thought about it privately for a long time, is that I think I can help the county. Times change, and sometimes a different approach is required. Right now I think I can do a better job for the county.”