County commissioners must work together

Published 9:20 am Monday, March 5, 2012

“Polarized and close to fractured.”

Those words were used by Decatur County Commission Chairman Dr. Charles Stafford to describe the current condition of the Decatur County commission.

Sadly, based on the events of not only the past two weeks, but the last 12 months of dysfunctional behavior of this commission, I agree with Stafford’s assessment.

Email newsletter signup

A special called meeting of the commission was held Thursday, and as I sat in the audience, I became ashamed of what I observed.

Never have I seen a council, commission, or committee of any kind caught so unprepared and flatfooted in response to what each of the commissioners surely knew was coming.

The departure of Tom Patton as the county’s administrator was a foregone conclusion. Despite what ultimately was to be determined, relative to the specifics behind the sewage spill in February 2011, it was very clear that Patton was not going to remain as a county employee. Relationships were shattered and trust was lost.

It also became evident, during Thursday’s meeting, that had Patton’s resignation not been negotiated, the commission would have voted 3-2 to fire him during Tuesday night’s regular meeting. Commissioners Butch Mosely, Frank Loeffler, and Oliver Sellers would have voted to fire Patton, while Stafford and Vice Chairman Russell Smith would have voted to retain him.

Based on the evidence discussed, I believe that the sewage spill was a major occurrence that deserved more attention and response that it received. However, Patton has held firm that the spill was less than the reportable 10,000 gallons.
Regardless, the commissioners missed one important detail. They didn’t have a plan on what to do next. Everyone’s heard the old adage, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

I watched as the five commissioners present at Thursday’s meeting — Commissioner Earl Perry participated via telephone, due to an illness — discussed how the county would conduct its business in the interim while the search begins for the next county administrator. I must say that was I surprised at what I heard and saw.

There had been virtually no communication among the commissioners as to the transition plan. Dr. Stafford, based on his interpretation of the role of the commission chairman, placed himself as the point man on the day-to-day operations of the county, with help from Smith.

The problem with that scenario is that apparently that arrangement was never communicated to the remainder of the commission. In what has been a recurring issue with this commission, decisions were made individually, and not as a group.
Ultimately, the commission decided to find an interim administrator that is not currently associated with the county government. That’s the right thing to do.
They will enlist the help of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia to find an interim administrator while the recruitment of a permanent administrator begins.
However, during the meeting, Mosely indicated that Col. Gary Breedlove, retired from the U.S. Air Force and the retired ROTC director at Bainbridge High School, had offered to serve as the interim administrator.

The commission would be wise to strongly consider Col. Breedlove as an option for this position. He would immediately offer leadership and a sense of stability to the county’s employees.

While the meeting Thursday night was called with the purpose of discussing the transition, it began with the commissioners finger-pointing, bickering, and generally acting like children.

This is after local businessman Dewey Robinson addressed the board and encouraged each of them to put the personal feelings, agendas, and vendettas aside and go about handling the business of the county in a positive way. I agreed with Robinson’s approach and message. Now, let’s hope the commissioners take to heart some of the things he said.

Individually, each member of this commission is an able and intelligent man. Collectively, the commission is failing. Failing to conduct the business of the county in the best way, failing to act in a harmonious manner, and, above all else, failing to make the citizens of Decatur County its No. 1 priority.

I urge this commission to get its act together, set aside the numerous differences of opinion, overcome the negative personal feelings and become a group that this county can trust to handle its business effectively.

Jeff Findley is the publisher of The Post-Searchlight. You can email him at