January 10, 2013
Guilford County government is seeing a radical changing of the guard and a mass exit of experience in a very short period of time – and that became even more true last week when Guilford County
Assistant Manager Sharisse Fuller, who's also the county's human resources director, turned in her letter of resignation, effective Thursday, Feb. 28.
In addition, longtime Guilford County
Information Services Director Barbara Weaver is retiring at the end of this month.Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox had previously announced she would be stepping down at the end of January.
In addition to Guilford County
losing its manager, assistant manager, human resources director and information services director, several other top level retirements have been announced in the last couple of months: Emergency Services Director Alan Perdue, Facilities Director Fred Jones and Elections Director George Gilbert all made it known they were retiring as well.
Add to that the fact that Fox is considered the director of the county's Administration Department and the fact that two county departments – the Planning and Development Department and the Property Management and Parks Department – currently don't have directors (they're being run by interim directors), and that means that eight of the county's 24 departments will be without directors soon.Guilford County
also has a new parks division as of Tuesday, Jan. 1, but it has no parks manager for those 30 new employees. The county is reportedly attempting to fill that position, which it has known about since June. So, in six months, the county has been unwilling or unable to take any action to fill a newly created position – but now, past the deadline for taking over the parks, it is beginning to start considering beginning the process to hire someone while 30 employees in a brand new county division have no management with experience in overseeing parks workers.Guilford County
Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, who said he is not retiring anytime soon, said the striking thing about recent events isn't just the number of directors calling it quits, but also the massive amount of experience that's leaving Guilford County
government in one fell swoop.
"I think we're losing about 500 years of experience," Thigpen said.
He said the loss of so many department heads in such a short period of time makes the choice of the new manager all the more important.
Thigpen said county employees were watching the search for a new manager closely, and he added that it will be a critical decision for the future of the county. Thigpen said he hopes the board will hire a manager who is professional and has a great deal of appreciation for what a well-run county government can accomplish.
Some county employees said they're worried the new Board of Commissioners – now run by a Republican majority for the first time since 1998 – will hire a "slash and burn" manager whose main activity will be cutting government to the bone.
The Board of Commissioners, which just began the process of sifting through applications for the manager's position, underwent a radical loss of experience of its own on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.
On that day, the board shrunk from 11 members to nine, four brand new commissioners were sworn in, and after that swearing in ceremony 76 years of commissioner experience walked out the exit doors of the Old Guilford County
While the county has lost a great deal of experience on the board, and is losing experience in top staff, it should be pointed out that that isn't necessarily a bad thing because some of those commissioners were ineffective and turned a blind eye to corruption and, while some departing county administrators have stellar reputations, others have been seen to be dishonest, ineffective or willfully negligent.
Fox has received the brunt of criticism for Guilford County
's poor management, and rightfully so. Her highly questionable and destructive activities have been well documented.
But other county administrators have also seen a lot of criticism. Weaver came under fire when it took the county three years to shift county employees from monthly to biweekly pay, as well as when her department paid a web development company about $40,000 with no contract in place. When those services weren't delivered, the county was out that money with nothing to show for it.
Also, Jones has been criticized by some county staff who say his Facilities Department hasn't dealt effectively with issues at the county's building at 325 E. Russell Ave. in High Point. Staff who work in the building say it has problems ranging from rats and ants to holes in the roof and in the floors.
Fuller has been criticized by some who say she has consistently looked the other way while Fox conducted all sorts of sketchy activities in the next office over.
Regardless, the new board will have its hands full trying to figure out the best way to run the county with all of the sudden vacancies at the top. With the exception of the county's Board of Elections director position, which is expected to be filled by Guilford County
Board of Elections Deputy Director Charlie Collicutt, those vacant positions aren't likely to be filled until a new manager is hired. Commissioners and other county officials alike said that hiring new department heads should be left to the next manager since he or she will be the one who has to work with those directors.
So all the focus now is on hiring a new county manager.
One county department head speculated that the current high level of turnover in Guilford County
government could negatively influence the impressions of candidates considering applying for the job.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips said recently he wants the manager search to move along quickly. He said he hopes the county can have a new manager in place well before the March 1 hiring deadline that was put forward by county staff in a proposed timeline.
However, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw said this week that, realistically, she doubts that could happen before March – given that the new manager may have to allow time to leave a current job before taking the job with Guilford County
"It would be April at the earliest before we could get someone in there," Shaw said.
Also, if the new manager is hired from outside Guilford County
government, he or she will need some time to become familiar with Guilford County
's operations, financial situation and personnel procedures.
Until Fuller announced her retirement last week, there was an assumption that Fuller would act as a placeholder in the county manager's slot until a new manager was hired and taught the ropes, but now, with Fuller's announcement of her retirement at the end of February, those plans are up in the air.
One county department head said the commissioners were unlikely to name someone an interim manager for just one month. That may be, but their choices are becoming severely limited....continued on page 2