“it’s not you, it’s me.”
So says a woman trying to break up with a man in a gentle fashion. She says it to prevent a fight, an argument, a prolonging of whatever misery she feels she’s suffering through. It heads off the potential responses of “I can change,” “I can be different,” I can be taller” that a guy throws out to preserve the relationship. It gives her a clean break. At least, that’s how we usually think of that expression.
Glynn County has been hearing it a lot lately, though, and I think it’s time the commissioners do some serious soul-searching.
From the outside, it very much looks like it’s them.
There’s been such widespread defection from the ranks of county government this year that the second and third floors of the Pate Building have tumbleweeds blowing through them. I love “Ghost Town” by Cheap Trick, but I hate to see the song acted out in the ranks of County Government.
The current commission came in with a mission of creating a change in the way things are done in Glynn County. Upsetting the apple cart can be an admirable thing, but when it spoils all of the apples there’s a problem.
It was no secret that there were a number of people in county government that the commissioners weren’t too keen on seeing retain their positions, but this kind of change can’t be made suddenly, at least not without a plan. Let me amend that: a solid plan.
When Alan Ours resigned—a parting which seemed mutual--a plan was formed to bring former Assistant County Manager Paul Christian in to replace him, but some very ugly legal documents got in the way, documents that are publicly accessible to anyone who performs a basic Google search. This basic Google search seems to have not been performed. When they had Christian on the hook, they seemed all to eager to allow Ours to go, but once the plan fell apart they were left with few options and no backup.
From there, the job was dropped in Kathryn Downs’s lap. Now, suddenly, she’s telling the county quite literally “It’s not you, it’s me” as she’s accepted a job in Bryan County that is roughly the equivalent to the job she already had.
The plan to replace Ours with Jeff Chapman was intriguing. He has had large successes in a variety of endeavors. He’s popular with the public. He smart and forward thinking. But he most definitely has his detractors, or there wouldn’t have been a well-financed opposition every time he ran for re-election.
The fact that the commission chose to move forward without board unity seems to be what killed the pick. Chapman withdrew his name from consideration a mere two days before the 14-day public review period was up, citing the fact that the county could only offer him a one-year contract. Many people have asked, “Didn’t he know that he could only get a one-year contract going into this? If so, why did he pursue it?” He certainly knew it early on, but asking that question is a basic missing of the point. It’s not that he just found out about it, it’s that with a sharply divided commission, one that voted 4-3 to make him the sole finalist for the position with Cap Fendig a self-proclaimed “swing vote,” Chapman knew he would be starting the job on shaky ground. One election that doesn’t go his way or one angered “swing vote” could end his career before he could even get fully up to speed in the job. He told the commission, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But once again, was it?
Immediately after naming Chapman the sole candidate for the County Manager’s position, a number of objections went up, most of them decrying the breaking of the process laid out for hiring the manager in the first place. Some of the complaints were about Chapman himself, which seems to be what led to Public Works Director Dave Austin immediately telling the commission, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
It reminds me of the guy I knew who ran around after his divorce telling everyone the breakup was all his ex’s fault. He proceeded to get married three more times over the next several years. At some point, you have to admit you bear some responsibility. At some point, you have to understand that even if someone says “It’s not you, it’s me,” they’re just trying to avoid telling you something difficult.
They’re trying to tell you it is in fact you.
I know our commission chairman to be a good man. I also know him to be in construction, so I guess the best way to say it is this. Renovating house is a great idea. You can make an old structure fresh, revitalize it. But you don’t start by taking out the loadbearing walls, unless of course, you want the roof to come down on your head.
With Downs on her way out quickly, it is incumbent upon the commission to fill the manager’s slot and do it right. Follow the process, do it in the daylight, and listen to the people whose job it is to know things. Once that is in place everything else should be easier.
Years ago, I watched a radio program director get fired. His sin? The company had hired a consultant to give him direction. He ignored the consultant, saying all along that he knew how to program better than the consultant. When the ratings came back and his station performed dismally, he was let go. His boss clearly explained to him, “If you’d followed the consultant’s advice, the failure would have been on him and you’d be fine. But you chose not to execute the plan, so it’s on you.”
The number one thing newly-minted politicians tell me is that they never knew how slowly the wheels of government turn, how long it takes to get something done. Keep in mind that everything about the county government cannot be changed overnight if you want it to continue functioning. And if you invest some time listening, you may find that some of the people you don’t think are worth keeping are more valuable than you think.
Otherwise, the commission may find themselves sitting in an empty Pate Building surrounded by a bunch of letters that all say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”