County administrator has tough job

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2010

Recently, the board of supervisors advertised (The Democrat, Sunday, March 7) to fill the position of county administrator, which board President Darryl Grennell has call “kind of like the mayor of the county.”

Indeed this job is highly important to the public because among other duties, that person must be familiar enough with federal and state law so as to be able to “keep the board informed about federal and state laws and regulations which affect the board of supervisors.” Also, that person must “investigate complaints from citizens” concerning the operation of the board; and “see that county-owned property is properly managed and maintained” (ref: “County Government in Mississippi,” third edition, pp. 53-54).

Adams County is on the unit system of government, which means among other things, that the board is compelled by law to employ an administrator. As can be seen in the job description, that person is supposed to be very much a watchdog for the public and must do all possible to advise the board and help it avoid operating outside the law. But there is a major problem in that if a board is autocratic and deliberately not abiding by the law, then the administrator is caught in an extreme conflict of interest and trying to serve two masters, as seen in the law.

According to the job description, the administrator must “carry out the policies adopted by the board” (good/bad/right/wrong).

So, if a policy or an order or regulation is questionable or illegal it would of course put the administrator in a most difficult position because the administrator “serves at the will and pleasure of the board” and may be summarily fired if three of the five supervisors vote to do so at any time; and all too often, a board will have a controlling de facto leader who can count on at least two others to vote with him, regardless.

Nearly two years ago, at the recommendation of my district supervisor (for whom I have nothing but kudos), I presented an issue before the board of supervisors. The issue was simple; the facts were undeniable. However, the matter remains deliberately unresolved.

The Democrat has taken strong exception to abuses of the board’s legal right under certain circumstances to go into executive session, when it wishes to keep its employer — the public — in the dark regarding what is discussed and decided. The newspaper has also expressed concern about the board’s indecisiveness and its sudden “about-faces” when facts are forced inside its “bubble,” a la the NRMC financial affair (Democrat, Feb. 21).

My experiences with Cathy Walker, the outgoing county administrator, left me with the firm belief that she was highly capable and doing her best under very difficult circumstances. I perceived that she was under constraint. I wish her well and I feel for whomever fills the current opening. It is my sincere hope that a strong and right-minded person with no pre-existing ties to the current board will be hired.

I would strongly suggest to each of the applicants that they consider obtaining competent legal counsel to draft a contract of employment (see Black’s Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition, page 321) to protect themselves concerning the aforementioned conflicts of interest. I believe that is necessary because the administrator takes a solemn oath of office to abide by the laws as written in the state Constitution (section 268). That person cannot do that and still “carry out” and “execute” the “policies,” “orders” and “regulations” of a board of supervisors, which in my experience has shown a very serious lack of respect for law and proper procedure.

Lynn Wirtz

Natchez resident