Since a County Manager is a relatively recent addition to Elbert County's staff, a definition of that job title might be appropriate. By definition, a county "places the management of the county into the hands of an outside expert who was usually a business manager or engineer, with the hope that the county manager would remain neutral to county politics." (Source: Brinkley, A: American History, A Survey). Additionally, per the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "A county manager needs at least a bachelor's degree in public administration, business administration or a related field and many hold master's degrees." County Managers generally earn over $100,000/annually.
So let's take a look at our County Manager and see how the parameters match up.
Did we seek out an "outside expert" for this position? No....in fact, Elbert County "promoted from within" so didn't need to solicit applicants, per our county commissioners.
Does our County Manager possess the requisite education? Again, no....in fact our County Manager has no education past high school (with no previous experience managing any enterprise with the budget and complexity of Elbert County).
How about salary? Yes....Ed Ehmann's original contract in 2014 lists his salary as $109,000, with 6 months' additional salary should he be terminated.
As an employee, Mr. Ehmann is bound by "Workplace Behavior" policies (found on pages 38 and 39) of the Elbert County Employee Handbook:
"We expect you to act in a professional manner....conducting County business or representing the County at business or social functions."
"Professional conduct means....at a minimum...treating coworkers, customers and vendors with patience, respect and consideration."
"Being courteous and helpful to others."
"We expect our employees to treat everyone they meet through their jobs with courtesy and respect."
Additionally, Mr. Ehmann's employment contract approved by the BOCC on 2/26/14 provides that his services may be terminated for "any on-duty or off-duty conduct that is materially injurious (or potentially so) to the operation, financial condition or reputation of Elbert County or county government, as determined in the discretion of the Board."
Observation of Mr. Ehmann at various public county meetings displays variance from acceptable behavior, as defined in both the Employee Handbook and his employment contract with Elbert County dated 2/26/14 in numerous instances:
*Frequent veiled references to citizens' lack of intelligence as citizens are unable, according to him, to understand words like "draft" or "grants" or "transparency."
*Stating that only the "loudest citizens" draw attention and cause the county to be "reactionary" leading to a "toxic" environment....clearly a diversion/excuse for some staff rudeness to citizens.
*Labeling a citizen in a public meeting, who simply asked that a power point be put up on the county website for citizen review, as "confrontational."
*Publicly attacking county commissioners and county employees at the 11/18/15 BOCC meeting in violation of his employment contract. Acted as part of an organized mob to intimidate county commissioners contemplating terminating the county attorney's contract. The commissioners caved in the face of this intimidation and, since then, an emboldened Ed Ehmann and supporting county staff have felt free to exhibit rudeness to members of the public and to bully employees not in their clique.
*Allowing the monitoring of a county employee's private emails, an apparent violation of federal law which has embroiled the county in potentially very costly litigation.
*Misleading the public about a revised County Manager policy recently approved by the board. Instead of posting the actual draft of the document on the county website, a summary misrepresenting the scope of the changes in the revisions appeared on the website.
*Blurting out to a citizen/media person that she was a "disruption" and pointing out to her just where "she could be seated" as she attempted to take pictures at a public meeting prior to the start of the meeting.
And the list goes on....most fall under the "lack of professionalism" code of conduct, but some serious enough to cause substantial financial penalties for the county.
In his dual role as Budget Officer, Mr. Ehmann's lack of qualifications is also apparent when compared to job descriptions in other comparable environments. Most job postings require a "trained professional," a "college accounting degree," etc.
Mr. Ehmann continues to tout the county's "improved finances.....the county is not broke....so much better than it was." Yet, if you have read or heard any of the auditor's reports over the past several years, the repeated refrain is: "Elbert County continues to lose assets to the tune of almost $3 million per year." Does this statement indicate a significant financial improvement? Is this the reason EC is switching auditors this year....in hopes of a better report? More importantly, is it a wise idea, given this professional analysis, to be purchasing a long-vacant bank building or adding more bureaucracy to our county government?
In actuality, the total summary of the EC budget for 2017 projects a $1.7 million reduction in the overall ending fund balance (i.e. money in the bank) compared to the beginning of the year fund balance ($6,769,682 beginning balance vs. $5,015,935 ending balance....source: EC website "Elbert County 2017 Budget" page 24). This represents a 25.9% reduction, in one year, of the available fund balance. We are reducing our available funds (some of which are restricted funds) to cover this deficit. Some of this deficit is the result of spending more than we are taking in by approximately $400,000. This reduction in our available funds was approved by the previous commissioners (including Commissioner Willcox) in December 2016. Is this prudent, especially in light of upcoming reductions in tax revenue as a result of the Gallagher Amendment's effect on the 2017 property tax assessments - estimated to be an 18% reduction in property tax receipts in 2018?
The current county commissioners are very aware of these concerns about Mr. Ehmann's leadership. But as long as the commissioners operate under the premise that Mr. Ehmann is essential to the county's operation, as long as they turn a blind eye to the rudeness he exhibits towards those "noisy" citizens who dare to ask questions, as long as they refuse to acknowledge his lack of qualifications and education for the positions he holds, nothing is going to change. Behavior modeled by management filters down....ultimately becoming the norm.