Change is normal, of course. This much change, not so much. However, all that really matters is whether change signals a different direction or lesser/greater level of competence.
Administrators, even though “hired personnel,” tend to be far more important and valuable than the elected Floyd or Rome commissioners and school board members that hire them. They’re the ones who specialize in the art of the possible, didn’t get to where they are by promising constituents the impossible, and often come up with the most workable ideas. Most elected officials, who tend to be a bit on the potluck side regarding ability, are actually part-timers, most of whom couldn’t handle even 10 percent of what they expect their administrators to do.
Greater Rome has been blessed in recent years by having a cadre of exceptional administrators, led by the seemingly eternal Rome city manager, John Bennett, who thankfully remains to stand as the Rock of Gibraltar even if earthquakes come in the future.
The new school system administrators will soon enough make their ideas and approaches known, but their greatest challenge will be in continuing, and advancing, the gains made by their predecessors.
JEFF McDANIEL, the new county schools chief, has been with the system for 10 years and most recently has been its chief of academics. Not only are academics where the knowledge meets the young brain, which is what education is all about, but he’s been on site and involved in the remarkable advances made by the departing Lynn Plunkett: the career academy and making the entire Floyd system charter among them, both pioneering steps, statewide.
McDaniel’s main challenge will be excelsior — higher!
Jeff Bearden, who is leaving a sticky wicket in Fayette County to take over the Rome system, may have the impossible task of making the community forget about Gayland Cooper, a miracle worker when it came to raising student scores in a system that became majority minority during his time. The general opinion in education is that such results are impossible.
However, it is when it comes to caring about the kids and spending 24/7 “on the job” that Bearden may find keeping up Cooper’s hands-on pace impossible. Cooper spent his last week on the job visiting every classroom in the city to thank the students and teachers for what they’ve accomplished and urge them to do even better. There are lot of classrooms in Rome. Bearden might consider visiting them all in his first week to introduce himself.
As for whomever permanently gets the county manager role that Blaine Williams is leaving to become an assistant at consolidated Athens-Clarke — more than twice as big and a notoriously “happening” sort of place … well, good luck. They will need it. And note the “consolidated” about which Rome-Floyd mumbles but never acts.
WILLIAMS IS a real loss, and not only because of his high competence level. He started with the city as a college intern, became Rome’s Downtown and River Development Director, then a senior project manager at a Rome-based health-care construction/planning company, moved on to become No. 2 in the county operation and took over a year ago when Kevin Poe went to smaller but economically hopping Jackson County — right next to Athens-Clarke, by the way. Williams thus has a doctorate in Rome-Floyd, is driven by the same fixation to always improve the community that Bennett has, and knows how to tiptoe through all the local political and citizen minefields.
That is irreplaceable. That slot is no place for on-the-job training ... although such wouldn’t be needed if the main requirement is just doing what one is told by part-time policy makers and not asking questions.
Williams and Poe probably both departed because they don’t see the job of managing public services as emphasizing dismantling them, or in being “yes men” to a County Commission majority that, frankly, has been curled up in a fetal position ever since the recession hit. Nor, for that matter, would anybody enjoy fielding all the resulting complaints from citizens/businesses because the manager is the only “boss” with daily office hours.
The notion that doing nothing, and perhaps less than before, is the best way to govern, along with holding an attitude of elected-daddy-knows-best was once the norm at the county level. That’s the way it was until a couple of decades ago when an entirely new commission finally recognized that electricity had replaced gaslights. Now — and let’s be plain that not all the present commissioners act this way but just the guiding lights — it appears the county believes candles are plenty good enough. Explaining much about Williams’ departure may be that those are the very same bright lights who just got re-elected to new four-year terms.
ADD IN the tone of the current county budget talks and Williams had good reason to “get out of Dodge” before he becomes the sheriff shot in the back for trying to protect the citizens.
Indeed, even as Rome reports solid revenue gains (and its money largely comes from the same places as the county) and resumes doing positive things for its employees (merit raises, new health clinic) the county is asked by Williams — the primary bean counter — to restore public-works to its pre-downturn 102 employees instead of the current 88 and is instead told a cut to 85 is coming.
More potholes and overgrown shoulders? Hey, isn’t a county supposed to look as rural as possible?
Add in that there’s confusion amongst commissioners over what “zero-based budgeting” means — it isn’t zero spending even when heavy equipment becomes worn out and dangerous — and one understand why Williams is heading for Athens. Or, as he put it: “They’re doing some neat things over there. It’s a very progressive community and government.”
Frankly, while Cooper and Plunkett had hit retirement age and faced a state cut in their pensions if they didn’t, they would have been gone long, long ago if required to only educate children using McGuffey Readers.
It is saddening to see so dedicated a public servant as Williams depart. The worst of it is that while he is leaving the quite apparent problem is staying.