This week Augusta commissioners heard from three candidates seeking to become Augusta’s next city administrator: Janice Allen Jackson, the former city manager of Albany, Ga.; Stephen Layson, the chief administrative officer of Bibb County, Ga.; and Oscar Rodriguez, the former town manager of Taos, N.M.
All three candidates seem highly qualified, intelligent people who probably don’t fully understand the mess that they are walking into when considering coming to Augusta.
Let’s start off with Rodriguez from New Mexico.
Rodriguez seems extremely qualified for the position, in fact, overly so with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s degree in city planning from MIT.
So, it begs the question: Why is Rodriguez considering traveling across the country from New Mexico to apply for a position in Georgia?
Obviously, it’s not unheard of, but talk about culture shock.
New Mexico is a fairly progressive, liberal and open-minded state.
Georgia, well, isn’t.
The truth may lie in the fact that Rodriguez was terminated as city manager of Taos, along with the town attorney, just this past March after being shutout by the county staff and commissioners, according to The Taos News.
“We imagine few people were surprised when the new mayor and town council replaced town attorney Brian James and town manager Oscar Rodriguez at Monday’s (March 17) organizational meeting,” a March 20 editorial stated. “After all, James and Rodriguez were bulldogs for the town when they were trying to strong-arm the county in negotiations last year. It is well-known county staff and commissioners refused to even speak with Rodriguez in recent months because of his abrasive style.”
But, overall, the paper defended Rodriguez’s role in the community, implying that his firing was much more politically motivated than anything else.
“Six months after he got a favorable performance review and a nice bump in benefits, Town Manager Oscar Rodriguez appears to have fallen out of favor with his bosses,” a Jan. 16 editorial in The Taos News stated. “We know what that means. It’s election season and candidates are looking for someone to blame for the administration’s unpopular decisions.”
The mayor and town councilor, both up for re-election, were apparently concerned about Rodriguez’s leadership and its impact on town hall morale.
“Rodriguez was hired in May 2012,” the editorial stated. “Since then he has been the lead on some high-profile and controversial moves by the town that have embroiled town and county governments in an open feud. They include the annexation of the Taos airport, failed negotiations over emergency dispatch and a library fee for county residents.”
Rodriguez also demanded “internal budget cuts to stave off a sharp decline in gross receipts taxes,” the paper stated.
Such moves made him unpopular with some in the community.
“Yes, Rodriguez’ personality and the way he has dealt with county officials could be described as off-putting at best,” the paper stated. “But Rodriguez is not a rogue town manager. He is an agent of the mayor and council. The council decides what it wants done. It’s the manager who makes it happen.”
After being fired as the town manager, Rodriguez sent this statement to the newspaper on March 24: “Speaking from myself and my family, I want to say that while we’re saddened that we’re not going to be able to accomplish what we set out to do when we came to Taos, which was to raise our baby in the land her ancestors used to walk, we are thankful for the time we spent here. It’s now plainly clear to me why our people never stopped talking about this land. We very much appreciate the natural beauty of Taos and the many good friends we made here. We wish them, the Town and all of Taos only the best.”
Could Augusta be a fresh, new start for Rodriguez?
Time will tell.
Then, there is Janice Allen Jackson, the former city manager of Albany, who is actually a native Augustan.
She appears to be an extremely intelligent candidate as well with a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University.
After serving as Albany’s city manager for almost nine years, Jackson served Mecklenburg County, N.C. as one of four general managers reporting to the county manager. Her primary responsibility focused on community health and safety.
Her resume is very impressive until you consider the fact that she has worked as a consultant in her firm, Janice Allen Jackson and Associates, since 2009.
The company’s website, www.janiceallenjackson.com, states that the firm provides services to organizations looking for a “better way to achieve their goals” by offering long- and short-term leadership and organizational consulting.
A consultant… hmmmm.
Jackson may be the best at what she does, but it has been almost five years since she served in her role as general manager of Mecklenburg County.
That’s a pretty long time to be in the private sector, so that will probably work against her.
Finally, there is Stephen Layson, the chief administrative officer of Bibb County, Ga.
Layson has a a bachelor’s degree from Georgia College & State University in criminal justice.
As the chief administrative officer, he is currently responsible for managing a $100 million budget and supervises more than 850 employees in 10 departments. He also recently managed a $190 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.
Layson sounds great on paper, but he has been interviewed a number of times over the past several years for city manager and administrator positions and never got the job.
The Augusta Chronicle pointed out this week that Layson competed with Augusta’s former deputy administrator, Bill Shanahan, for a county manager job in York County, S.C., last year. Layson lost the position to Shanahan.
But Layson also interviewed last year in Okaloosa County, Fla.
During that interview, he told the Okaloosa County commissioners that he understood what they deal with on a daily basis because he had also served as an elected county commissioner.
He was on the Putnam County Board of Commission for 12 years.
So, Layson is a former politician.
That may explain why some other counties have passed him by.
Politicians don’t always like other politicians.
Things could get very interesting over the next several weeks as Augusta commissioners decides who they want as their next city administrator.
It will be more interesting to see who is willing to accept the job.