In selecting longtime local politician Jeff Chapman to be the next county manager, the Glynn County Commission set aside two qualified candidates – both women — recommended by a professional search firm hired by the county.

Tonya Miller

 One of candidates has extensive experience with Glynn County government. Tonya Miller, Glynn County’s former chief financial officer, spent six years with the county before leaving in 2019.

Miller, 51, accepted the job city manager in Waycross, a position she has held since her departure.

Alicia Vaughn

 The other candidate identified by Mercer Group is Alicia Vaughn, was county manager in Northwest Georgia’s Catoosa County until she resigned in April.

 The names of the two candidates were disclosed in records provided to The Current and have not previously been reported.

Instead of following the search firm’s recommendation, the county commissioners on July 1 voted 4-3 to make Chapman, 61, the sole candidate even though Chapman hadn’t formally applied for the job.

Jeff Chapman

The requirements set by the county in its official search document for the position had included:

  • A bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration or related field. A master’s degree was preferred.’
  • Seven years of progressive management experience in a local government of similar size or complexity as Glynn County or applicable executive type experience.
  • Evidence of continued professional development such as gaining additional credentials from the International City/County Managers Association.

Chapman does not have a college degree and has never held a post as a professional public administrator, a review of his career shows. However, since 2016 he twice been elected Glynn County Tax Commissioner, a position that has required him to oversee a substantial county operation. “He’s gotten very high marks for what he’s done with the tax commission office,” said Cap Fendig, one of four county commissioners who voted to hire Chapman.

Bill Brunson, one of the commissioners who opposed Chapman’s appointment, expressed doubt that Chapman would have made it through the vetting process had he applied for the job.

“My biggest concern is we didn’t follow the process,” Brunson told The Brunswick News. “Other applicants went through the rules. We summarily dismissed them.”

Brunson, the former chairman, said he was impressed by the other applicants.

For most of the past two decades, Chapman has been a politician, holding elected office as a county commissioner, state representative and senator. He has mounted unsuccessful campaigns for governor and Congress.

On June 9, Chapman wrote Chairman Wayne Neal expressing surprise that he had been asked by “several county commissioners” if he would consider the county manager’s position.

Even though he admitted  in the letter to Neal that it was “difficult at first to envision a move away from a very satisfying role” as tax commissioner,” he nevertheless said he was willing to accept the challenge.

The county manager’s job most recently came with an annual salary of $181,750, county records show. Chapman makes $105,298 as tax commissioner.

The Tax Commission office with 15 employees and a budget of $1.8 million doesn’t match the scale of the county government with 940 employees and an annual budget of $144 million.

Chapman did not respond to a request for comment from The Current. He told The Brunswick News that his experience will provide him a fresh perspective.

“Every job I’ve had has prepared me for my next responsibility,” he told the newspaper. “It has given me insights on both sides of the issue.”

Alan Ours, who had held the job since 2010, resigned in mid-February giving the county six months’ notice. The county commission terminated Ours, 63, on April 1. He was hired in May as county manager for Lumpkin County. 

In March, the county hired Mercer Group Associates to find a replacement for Ours. The firm agreed to a base fee $17,500 plus expenses, according to the county’s agreement with the firm. The Current has requested the amount of the firm’s final bill .

Cap Fendig

Fendig, who previously served with Chapman on the county commission, formally moved to make Chapman the lone finalist.

Fendig, who described himself as the swing vote, said he concluded that Chapman was qualified for the job on the basis of two intensive interviews. “I really grilled him,” he said.

The commissioners interviewed all three candidates but spent the most time with Chapman, he said.

Commissioner David O’Quinn, who opposed the appointment, told The Brunswick News that he had been impressed by the other candidates. “I thought the other two were very qualified,” he said. “Their credentials would have been put out there. None of that was provided by Commissioner Chapman.”

At the July 1 meeting, Commissioners Sammy Tostensen, Neal and Walter Rafolski joined Fendig to vote without comment to install Chapman, according to a video of the meeting.

Allen Booker

Commissioners Allen Booker, O’Quinn and Brunson opposed the move – also without comment.

Fendig argued that the job description was not the only thing that mattered, and that nothing required the commissioners to follow Mercer’s guidance.

Chapman’s long experience as an elected official and his standing a lifelong Glynn resident made up for any shortcomings in his resume, Fendig said. “He knows the place and he’s from here; that means a lot.”

Alan Reddish, the Mercer executive leading the search, referred all inquiries to the Glynn Chairman Wayne Neal.

Neal sent an email response to The Current: “I did not need Mr. Chapman’s resume to know that he would meet my expectations, I have watched him perform at an exceptional level for many years and would expect nothing less as he assumes the duties of county manager.
The money spent for the search was not wasted because it provided the board of commissioners with a broad array of candidates to review and compare.”

Booker, who voted to oppose Chapman, told The Current that he didn’t consider him the most qualified candidate.

“While he did make improvements in the Tax Commission office, I don’t believe he is friend of The City of Brunswick,” Booker said. “And he didn’t provide the same level of transparency about his past actions as other candidates.”

The county commission will vote on appointing Chapman at its July 15 meeting.

In comparison to Glynn County’s hiring process, Savannah last month organized a full two-day public interview process for its three finalists for city manager, putting the candidates in front of community groups, neighborhood associations, local business owners and local media as part of the evaluation process. The Savannah city council says it will take into account community input from these meetings in their final selection.

This story was updated July 8 with a response from Wayne Neal.