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Spotsylvania supervisors to hire top county officials

October 11, 2012 12:10 am



The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has expanded its hiring authority despite opposition from veteran board members.

Supervisors will now appoint the deputy county administrator, the deputy county attorney and all department heads. Previously, they hired just two employees--the county administrator and the county attorney.

The board on Tuesday night voted 5-2 to approve the revisions to Spotsylvania's Human Resources Policies and Procedures Manual, with Supervisors Benjamin Pitts and Gary Skinner casting the dissenting votes.

"I have never been a big proponent of micromanagement," said Pitts, who has been a supervisor for almost 13 years. "When I see this policy, micromanagement smacks me right in the face."

Four of the supervisors in support of the changes--Ann Heidig, Timothy McLaughlin, David Ross and Paul Trampe--were elected last November. The county has had the same department heads, deputy county administrator and deputy county attorney since those supervisors took office this year.

Statewide, supervisors generally appoint only the county administrator and the county attorney, said James Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties.

"If they choose to retain some influence over some key department heads or something like that, they have the ability to do that," he said. "Across the state, not many of them do."

Supervisors will follow the new hiring policy when they replace Deputy County Administrator Ernie Pennington, who retires at the end of the month.

The board also voted Tuesday to advertise that job opening for 30 days and have a subcommittee--which will include the HR director, the county administrator and two supervisors--narrow the applicant pool to three. The entire Board of Supervisors will interview the finalists and make an appointment.

McLaughlin said the new hiring policy holds supervisors accountable for the way the county is being run.

"As a leader, you're responsible for all those around you," said McLaughlin, who referenced his past service in the Marine Corps as an example. "I think it makes sense."

But Skinner, who has been a county supervisor since 2008 and is also a retired Marine, encouraged the board to let County Administrator Doug Barnes and County Attorney Jacob Stroman hire their employees. Traditionally, the county administrator has hired the department heads and his deputy, and the county attorney has hired his deputy.

"It seems to me that we're getting down in the weeds here," Skinner said. "I don't want to fix anything that's not broken."

Barnes said he wouldn't hire department heads or a deputy county administrator without first briefing supervisors, regardless of the HR policy.

In fact, those employees will continue to report to Barnes, based on the revised policy. He will evaluate them and have the power to fire them.

"At the end of the day, they'll still be working for me," said Barnes, who has worked in Spotsylvania government for about 35 years.

The policy also has flexibility regarding the hiring of department heads. Supervisors can delegate that authority to Barnes.

Still, Pitts said it doesn't make sense for the board to hire top employees only to turn around and make the county administrator supervise them.

"I think it's a bad policy decision for this board to tell the county administrator who he has to work with," he said.

Ross said the "buck stops with the board," and the hiring changes reflect that. He noted that Barnes will still participate in the hiring process.

"We're not micromanaging," Ross said. "We are part of the selection process to get who we feel is the best."

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

"The Board of Supervisors shall appoint the deputy county administrator and deputy county attorney.

"The county administrator will evaluate and discipline the deputy county administrator. Disciplinary authority shall include the ability to discharge the deputy county administrator.

"The county attorney will evaluate and discipline the deputy county attorney. Disciplinary authority shall include the ability to discharge the deputy county attorney.

"The Board of Supervisors shall appoint all department directors subject to consultation with the county administrator. The Board of Supervisors may delegate this authority to the county administrator. The county administrator will evaluate and discipline department directors. Disciplinary authority shall include the ability to discharge a department director."

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