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Whitaker re-hired as interim finance director for McDuffie

Retirement was brief for Jimmy Whitaker - just two days - before he was re-hired to serve as interim director of the finance department, amid a split 3-2 vote by McDuffie County Commissioners last Wednesday.

In another matter related to the finance department, commissioners rejected the idea of creating a joint finance department with the City of Thomson. Commissioners struck down that proposal in a 3-1 vote. Thomson City Council was expected to have addressed that same issue when they meet Thursday night.

Officials say the latter appears to be a moot point at this stage.

Mr. Whitaker was back on the job on Thursday. In his new position, he will be working for the county on a contract basis at a pay rate of $30 an hour, according to County Manager Don Norton.

Prior to the meeting ever started, words were exchanged between Vice-Chairman Sammie Wilson, Sr., and Chairman Charlie Newton about whether those two items should even be approved as part of the meeting's agenda.

Mr. Wilson said he believed additional clarification was needed before approving those two items to the agenda. He went on to say that if they were approved, he would not be able to vote on either one of the issues.

Mr. Newton suggested that both items be left on the agenda. He contended that both of the issues could be continued if commissioners felt additional information was needed before voting on them. Commissioners Paul McCorkle and Bill Jopling later made motions allowing the items to stay on the agenda. Commissioner Fred Favors sided with them when it came time to approve the agenda.

Mr. Whitaker officially left the finance director post on May 4. He had served in that capacity for eight years. During Wednesday's meeting, however, Mr. Norton informed commissioners that Mr. Whitaker told him he would be glad to serve in an interim capacity until a new finance director was hired.

Advertising for the new finance director position is expected to begin soon, Mr. Norton said. He hopes that within 60 days, a new finance director will be in place.

When it came time to discuss the possibility of a joint city/county finance/administration services office, Mr. Wilson expressed displeasure during last week's commission meeting.

Mr. Wilson made a motion to table the matter for at least six months.

"Put it off six months," Mr. Wilson urged, noting that the county had not checked with other counties to see how they do things.

His motion died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Fred Favors later offered a motion to forego the idea of a joint city/county venture. His motion received a second from Mr. Wilson.

Rev. Favors told Mr. Newton that he had "heartburn" with the idea during a commissioners' work session held two days earlier. He reiterated that feeling at the commission meeting.

Mr. Newton favored the idea of a joint city/county venture saying he believes it's a better value for tax payers. He explained that joint services already are being done in planning and zoning, recreation, senior citizens and IT.

"It's about giving our citizens more services for less money," Mr. Newton said.

Mr. McCorkle said he feels the county should have its own finance director.

"We need our own finance director for the county," Mr. McCorkle said. "We need a finance director who reports to this board."

When it came time to vote on the issue, Rev. Favors, Mr. Wilson, Mr. McCorkle and Dr. Jopling all voted to keep things as they currently are. Mr. Newton opposed the motion.

Mr. Jopling chairs an organizational committee looking at ways of better streamlining the way government does things. Mr. Newton said he still wants to hear from the committee on the finance department issue.

During last Monday night's commission work session, commissioners, along with Thomson City Mayor Kenneth Usry and council members met to discuss the idea of a joint city/county finance, administration services department. Leading the discussion was Mr. Newton.

"We can basically do everything we need to do with the personnel we already have now," Mr. Newton said. Plus a joint department could allow for an employee to concentrate on managing purchasing for the city and county and another to watch over various construction projects.

"We get a much higher level of service out of our finance office," Mr. Newton added.

A new job description for the new department head already had been developed by Mr. Norton and City Administrator Don Powers.

Mayor Usry made it clear that the two governments are not consolidating, but rather, "We are taking your money and our money and trying to get the most for our dollars."

At that same work session, Mr. Favors said, "I'm not at the point of being ready to move in that direction."

Mr. McCorkle pointed out that he was concerned about recent events in the county's finance department. Some of those concerns deal with allegations made by county employees who work in that department. At least two of those employees' claims against Mr. Whitaker are now under probe by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The allegations, some of which were found to have no merit, resulted in an internal investigation by county commissioners, led to Mr. Whitaker and Mr. Norton being disciplined.

Web posted on Thursday, May 14, 2009

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