New admin says he’s here to stay

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By Alice Du Pont

Gadsden County, said new county administrator Johnny D. Williams, is just the kind of place he likes and he wants to stay here for a long time.

"I'm a manager. That's what I do. It's my profession just as if I were an accountant," he said.

After one week on the $100,000-a-year job, although no contract has been officially signed, Williams has been impressed with the staff, the county's recreational opportunities (especially the lake area because he is an avid fisherman), the potential for economic development and the sincerity and dedication of the county commissioners.

Although two commissioners didn't support hiring Williams, he's ready to work with all board members.

"I would have preferred a unanimous vote but I'm sure they will give me the opportunity to prove myself. I understand they wanted to give the job to someone local," Williams said.

The local preference of commissioners Brenda Holt and Sherrie Taylor was Robert Presnell, road and bridge director. Williams said he has met with Presnell and that he seems to be a "fine and capable man."

Williams was terminated from his last position as city manager in Gautier, Miss. after less than a year. He said the firing was politically motivated by disagreeing factions on the board.

"It had nothing to do with my abilities. They never gave me a chance, I only had three months there. It's the only job I have ever been terminated from after 35 years. The move was political and three of the seven-member board voted to keep me. That's why on my references I list the mayor. He'll tell the truth," Williams said.

His management style is based on the level of maturity of the employee. If an employee needs closer management, he's ready to provide it and if an employee shows closer management is not necessary, he provides the leadership and steps aside.

He has met with all of the department heads who report directly to him and has planned meetings with all of the constitutional officers. He also plans to meet with all elected officials as time permits.

But his immediate attention is aimed at getting a handle on the county's financial challenges. He said he doesn't want to make any quick personnel changes but eventually they will occur.

One of his first actions last week was to order all department heads to cut spending by 15 percent, cut travel unless vital and keep vacancies that occur unfilled.

"We don't have a choice. We've cut tangibles. The only thing left to cut is people. It happened recently in the clerk's office and it's likely to happen here. Hopefully, it will be temporary layoffs and when things change, we can bring those people back. It's difficult. I have been laid off myself," he said.

He views the problems facing the county as normal for any government. He cited his years of experience in other places as preparation for the job he faces here.

"I was administrator in Bibb County, Ala., which is a lot like Gadsden County, and I was a manager in Hampton County, Ga., 28 miles outside of Atlanta. Cities and counties are like people: all you have to learn is their differences. Just as there are different personalities in people, there are differences in counties," Williams said.

The problems in Gadsden County are what Williams calls "normal." He has been briefed on the problems associated with the hospital and said he dealt with hospitals in Bibb County.

He also wants to address reorganization of county government to increase efficiency and increase productivity. He has met with Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce officials and wants to explore more ways to spur economic development.

"We're not going to count out any industry. We're 22 miles from a major labor force and some companies tend to want to locate in rural areas. We're in a good location; Gadsden County is in an excellent location for all kinds of industry. That will be a major focus," he said.

There will also be recommendations to the board in the area of growth management. He wants to modify some codes because, he said, a lot of money could be spent in the future because growth management issues were not addressed early.

The 62-year-old divorcee is the father of three and grandfather of seven.

"My last granddaughter was born the day before I got this job and I got to hold her. This is my home now," Williams said.