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County admin's plan voted in by commissioners; layoffs loom

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By Alice Du Pont

The reorganization plan devised by Gadsden County Administrator Johnny Williams was voted into action by the county commissioners, despite the reservations of two commission members.

Chairman Eugene Lamb said the reorganization was strictly a decision made by Williams. He asked commissioners Sherrie Taylor and Brenda Holt to share their concerns with the administrator.

"I'm am he sure will take your concerns into consideration," Lamb said.

Under the plan Williams, in conjunction with the appropriate department heads and the Human Resources Department, will determine which positions and/or employees are subject to a layoff as deemed to be in the best interest of the county. Some of the factors used to determine layoffs may include, but are not limited to, needs of the county, seniority, job performance, qualifications and employment status such as temporary, seasonal, probationary and full- or part-time.

Williams said he is fully aware that some employees come under collective bargaining contracts and that the collective bargaining  agreement would prevail. Employees selected for layoff will be paid according to county policy which provides for payment in full of all accrued unused annual leave not to exceed 240 hours and after 3 years of consecutive employment of one-fourth of accrued unused sick leave.

"I'm looking at from eight to 20 layoffs. I have not yet decided who those individuals might be. Layoffs are not punitive actions. There will be some departments that will be consolidated. I'm looking at community development and planning right now. I have never in  my years in government seen the planning and the community development departments as two separate departments," Williams said.

Because there is duplication of services in both departments, Williams said he would interview both department heads, Farnita Saunders, community development director, and Director  of Planning and Growth Management Howard Douglas, to determine which is best suited to direct the combined departments.

Holt objected to Williams' plan, saying the only department that has brought any money into the county is community development. She also said that now is not the time to pull Douglas away from his duties because changes to the comprehensive plan are looming and will require Douglas’ full-time attention.

County attorney Deborah Minnis said she had examined the proposed policy and found nothing legally wrong with the document. She said that there was enough flexibility in the policy for Williams to address any issue that could arise.

Williams said the county is looking at a $900,000 shortfall for the next two fiscal years. One of the ways to help reduce that shortfall is to lay off employees, especially where there is a duplication of services.

"We have tried everything else. This is the last thing we can do. It's happening all around us...the city of Quincy, the state and with private employers," Williams said.    In other matters, commissioners:

• Approved an extension of the economic development community block grant of $750,000 for the Bradwell-Huddle House project. The project has experienced several delays, with the most recent involving the granting of an easement by the adjacent property owner. Huddle House has since pulled out of the project but Monte Bradwell has committed to building a restaurant on the site. The extension will allow the project to move forward with the approval of the Department of Community Affairs and the county.

• Approved the hiring of Dr. Carolyn Poole as library services director.

• Accepted the insurance committee's recommendation the award the bid for the county's insurance carrier to Pat Thomas and Associates.