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Local leaders battle over Forward McDuffie job

Thomson City Councilman Mike Carrington was ultimately the choice of Thomson and McDuffie County officials to serve as Forward McDuffie director. But it wasn't a unanimous decision.

During a joint city/county meeting on April 19, two City Council members voted Mr. Carrington as their choice to run the economic development, tourism and chamber of commerce efforts. The two votes in favor of Mr. Carrington carried his nomination as Thomson's choice to fill the position.

After City Councilman John Smalley questioned the search process, alleging that cronyism led to Mr. Carrington being named the top candidate, he abstained. City Councilman Alton Belton also abstained, saying later that Mr. Carrington was his personal banker. Mr. Carrington did not vote either since the decision involved his employment.

Thomson Mayor Bob Knox said the decision to have a local resident as Forward McDuffie director did play into the search committee's decision, but that nothing was decided until after the search process had fully played out.

"It's been an open process and always has been," he said. "...There never has been any railroading or anything like that."

However, both of the other finalists - Christopher Naylor of Augusta and Dean Barber of Birmingham, Ala. - told The McDuffie Mirror that they were not asked to interview for the position. Mr. Carrington said he was interviewed.

Mayor Knox and Commission Chairman Charlie Newton, stated Mr. Carrington's work with the Chamber of Commerce and tourism for the last 15 years has adequately prepared him for two-thirds of the job. They also cited problems with the other finalists' previous jobs as strikes against them.

"With Mike, we knew exactly what we were getting," said Chairman Newton, adding that former Forward McDuffie Director Don Powers - who now serves as Thomson City Administrator - could coach Mr. Carrington on the job.

After the city vote, McDuffie County Commissioners declined to make a motion either to approve or deny the recommendation of the search committee. Commissioners then met in a closed session to discuss their next move.

"This is kind of embarrassing to me," Chairman Newton said during the open portion of the meeting. "We've got a man's life hanging in the balance."

On Wednesday morning, commissioners met behind closed doors again with Charlie Bellman, the consultant hired to conduct the search. After an hour, Mr. Bellman was excused, and another 30 minutes passed before the session was opened for a vote.

Commissioners Fred Favors and Bob Farr voted against hiring Mr. Carrington while Darrell Wester and Sammie Wilson voted in favor. Chairman Newton cast the tie-breaker vote.

Commissioner Favors stated after Wednesday's meeting that his problem was with the search process, not Mr. Carrington. He said the search committee is supposed to hold a formal meeting to hash out the differences between candidates, but didn't.

"That's compromising the process," he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Carrington will resign his post on the City Council and his job at Queensborough National Bank.

Web posted on Thursday, April 26, 2007

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