Sep. 25—The recent turnover of key positions in Glynn County government has some believing the county commission is responsible for the exodus.
Since the beginning of the year, the county has lost County Manager Alan Ours, Deputy County Manager Kathryn Downs, County Clerk Dhwani Patel, EMA Director Alec Eaton, and most recently Public Information Officer Matthew Kent, whose last day on the job is Monday.
Former County Commissioner Peter Murphy described the situation as a "slow meltdown of the county administration."
He blames the exit of most of the county employees on the result of commissioners forcing the resignation of Ours, who Murphy said was among the most professional, highly regarded county managers in the state.
"If they didn't alienate Alan Ours we wouldn't have seen the turnover," he said. "You could tell how much the executive team admired Alan."
Ours gave his six month's resignation notice in March, but a majority of commissioners decided to fire him in April.
"They made a mistake not allowing Alan Ours to finish working until August. It was ill advised," said County Commissioner Bill Brunson.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Neal said Ours resigned because he didn't like the direction the new commission wanted to take the county.
"County government had grown 50 percent the past five to seven years," Neal said. "We were trying to get rid of a few bad apples. He could have helped change the culture."
The reason the county didn't get bombarded with hundreds of applications from overqualified candidates for the county manager's job is because of the workplace environment in county government, Brunson said.
"It's disheartening we don't have 500 seasoned professionals with the qualifications applying for the job," he said.
Former Commissioner Mike Browning was even more candid about the direction of county government. He said the newly elected commissioners came into office with an agenda without taking time to learn the job or the employees.
Sammy Tostensen, one of the newly elected commissioners, defeated Browning in his bid for reelection in the 2020 Republican primary. Murphy did not run for re-election.
"I realized they had it in for Alan Ours," Browning said.
It's not the only time there has been an effort behind the scenes to fire Ours. Browning said when he took office in 2012, people called to tell him to fire Ours.
"They had no idea what type of county manager he was," Browning said. "I found Alan Ours to be an utmost professional and the hardest working person. He dedicated his life to Glynn County."
Browning said the problem they had with Ours was he was not from Glynn County.
"They wanted someone they can control," he said. "They talked about cleaning out the third floor of the Pate Building (where Ours and staff worked). They had an agenda."
Some of the newer commissioners created a "manifesto" before they took office this year, where they outlined their goals once they took office. It included plans for a SPLOST referendum, reforming the way county government runs, changing the budget process, reducing employee health care costs, possibly contracting out EMS service, reducing county personnel and lowering the county's fund balance from $17.3 million down to $15 million.
Neal, who had been in office two years, said the document laid out the working points of what the new commission would try to accomplish.
He said prior to the 2020 general election, a majority of fellow county commissioners excluded him from providing input on some issues. He said the concerns currently raised are a "hit piece on the county" politically motivated by former county commissioners who plan to challenge the incumbents, including Neal, in next year's county elections.
"I'm getting tired of the personal attacks," Neal said. "There are politics in this."
ISSUES AND CONCERNS
Another problem, Browning said, was the new commissioners started going directly to department heads with requests without letting the employees' boss — the county manager — know the work schedule in that department had been changed.
"They wanted to run the county and tell them what to do," he said. "What's going on in this county is bad."
The current atmosphere is so disruptive, Browning said it will be difficult for the county to recruit the best candidates to fill the vacant positions because the potential candidates all network with each other.
"You're not going to get a good candidate because they know there is a problem with the board of commissioners," he said. "We want jobs to come here. We want people to invest here."
Browning criticized the way commissioners "bungled" the SPLOST referendum that was rejected by voters in March.
"We took economic development seriously," he said. "The citizens are already taking a hit."
Another indication of the way the county commission conducts business is the number of times they have met in closed executive sessions.
"They have met in executive session more times in the past eight months than I did in eight years on the commission," Browning said. "They don't want to talk about business in the open. They don't want the citizens to know what they do."
Commissioners have met in closed executive session nearly 40 times this year. Since April, they have met more than 27 hours behind closed doors.
Georgia law allows executive sessions for only specific reasons, including discussions of land acquisition, lawsuits and personnel matters.
Browning said commissioners who supported hiring Tax Commissioner Jeff Chapman tried to keep the contract secret, even from the three commissioners opposed to hiring him, until the day of the meeting when the vote would be held.
But Chapman sent the proposed contract to County Attorney Aaron Mumford for review before the meeting and it became public record.
"This was supposed to be kept quiet," Browning said. "Everything they've tried backfires on them. When it backfires on them, it backfires on the county."
Browning questioned what else some of the commissioners are doing behind closed doors.
"The system is broken in Glynn County," he said. "Why did they want to break it? Look at the manifesto. They already did what they wanted to do. They're nothing but political people with an agenda."
Neal said he didn't expect to see as many key employees leave the county, but he has no hard feelings about their decisions.
"We're in the depths of feeling the pain of this change," he said. "Are there more changes in the future? Maybe."
More than anything else, Neal said he is concerned about the timing of the criticisms toward some of the commissioners, especially with the Ahmaud Arbery trial in the coming weeks.
"This isn't the time to do this," Neal said. "This is not a time for dissension."