More upheaval in Clayton County government

Overhauling Clayton County government is proving to be a bit more challenging than its architects may have envisioned.

The new administration, led by Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, promised reform when it assumed office in January. But that reform has morphed into a revolving door at the county government complex in Jonesboro.

As for residents who had hoped the new regime would shake things up? The constant churn that began with the ouster of the county manager four months ago probably isn’t what they had in mind.

Now the leadership is having to contend with more upheaval — this time in the county’s finance department. And officials have yet to fill the key job of chief operating officer.

Finance director Angela Jackson resigned April 19 in the middle of budget preparation season. The prep work for the 2014 budget now rests with Jackson’s boss, Ramona Thurman, the new chief financial officer, who has been in the job less than a month and wasn’t slated to take over budget preparation until next year — a matter that has some on the commission worried.

“I feel very unsettled about the direction the county government is going,” said Commissioner Sonna Singleton. “Not only do we not have a person who is experienced in all facets of county government, but we also just lost a very knowledgeable resource in finance. I’m also unsettled because we have a chief financial officer with no county finance government experience and we’re in the middle of a budget cycle.”

Jackson spent about a week briefing Thurman on the department and the budget before she left. That’s not enough time for Thurman to get up to speed on vital budgetary issues, Commissioner Gail Hambrick said. Both Hambrick and Singleton expressed concern about Thurman’s unfamiliarity with the local option sales tax agreement that Turner reached with the county’s seven cities and how it may impact the upcoming budget.

“The county is getting a lower percentage and the cities are getting a higher percentage under the deal the chairman reached with the cities,” Hambrick said. “And that’s got to be factored into the new budget.”

By law, the county must adopt its fiscal 2014 budget by the end of June. So far, no preliminary budget has been presented to county commissioners.

Turner insists the new CFO can do the job.

“Ms. Thurman is well-experienced with large budgets, and the staff in finance is excellent in terms of having done this over the years,” Turner said Friday. “I have the utmost confidence in the staff and Ms. Thurman’s abilities to get the budget done.”

Meanwhile, Turner confirmed that Anthony Brister was offered the chief operating officer's job, but declined the offer. Brister, director of south Louisiana for Waggoner Engineering Inc. in Jackson, Miss., could not be reached for comment.

The Turner administration created the CFO and COO positions, hoping to gain greater accountability over county finances and a better handle over the day-to-day management of the county — two campaign promises Turner and Commissioner Shana Rooks made.

Despite the latest setbacks, Turner said his first four months in office have “pretty much been a smooth transition.”

Turner said he will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the county until the COO’s job is filled.

“We’re still moving forward,” Turner said. “I’m still encouraged with the direction (in which) the board and myself have taken the county in the first 100 days of my administration.”