Jeff Chapman
Jeff Chapman

Before returning to Jeff Chapman as the sole finalist for county manager, the Glynn County Commission hired a consultant to find an interim county manager to steady the county’s stressed operation – a search that yielded a qualified and experienced candidate.

A little more than a week before the commissioners unexpectedly voted to revive Chapman’s candidacy, the commission approved a contract worth $30,000 for the consulting firm Excellence Exceeded to search for a candidate to be interim county manager.

This is the second time that the county commission has engaged an outside firm only to reject the recommended candidate. Last spring the commissioners paid the Mercer Group more than $17,000 for a search that produced two qualified and experienced candidates. Instead, a deeply divided commission opted for Chapman.

 This time, the firm Excellence Exceeded recommended Michael Stewart, who has a master’s degree in public administration and years of experience as an administrator in Georgia cities and counties. He is now the interim city manager in Manchester, Ga.

Nevertheless, the commissioners voted 4-3 on Aug. 19 to restore Chapman, the county’s elected tax commissioner, as the only candidate for the job. The commission cannot legally vote to hire Chapman until its Sept. 2 meeting.

Glynn County Commission: left to right: Commissioner Walter Rafolski, Commissioner Bill Brunson, Commissioner Sammy Tostensen, Commissioner David O’Quinn, Vice Chairman Cap Fendig, Chairman Wayne Neal, Commissioner Alan Booker. Credit: Glynn County

Chapman has no experience as a county or city administrator or a college degree, qualifications that were included in the job posting approved by the commissioners in the spring. Since then, commissioners have said they are not bound by any set of qualifications for the job.

After rejecting the first two qualified and experienced candidates, commissioners recruited Chapman, who hadn’t applied for the job. Chapman is a longtime politician, having served on the commission as well as the state Legislature. He ran a failed bid for governor before being elected Glynn County tax commissioner.

Under a proposed contract drafted by Chapman’s attorney, Chapman would be paid $225,000 a year, about $44,000 more than his predecessor was paid and more than double his salary as county tax commissioner. He also asked the county to pay his lawyer $10,000 for writing the contract. State law precludes Chapman from holding both jobs at the same time.

Chapman also would receive 1,280 hours in personal leave – the equivalent of 160 days per year off – and a $750 monthly car allowance.

Alan Ours, the former county manager, was paid $181,700 per year, had a $500 car allowance and 160 hours of personal leave.

In an earlier version of the contract, Chapman had asked that the commissioners agree to a $750,000 payment in case he was terminated by this commission or a subsequent commission after the 2022 elections. This contract was apparently rejected, although the county provided no record of a vote. The most recent version of the contract includes a year’s salary for severance.

Commissioner Bill Brunson, the former commission chairman, said he was alarmed by the way the process is unfolding. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Brunson told The Current. “And I’ve lived here since 1973 and run a business here for 35 years. Every bullet point of that contract is a nonstarter for me.”

Brunson said he had no inkling that Chapman was still in play before the Aug. 19 meeting, when Commissioner Cap Fendig proposed that Chapman be named the finalist. Commissioners Allen Booker and David O’Quinn also have said they were surprised by the move.

Fendig declined to comment, saying that the contract was still being negotiated.

 Commission Chairman Wayne Neal has not responded to The Current’s requests for comment. However, Neal told The Brunswick News said that the commission had been looking for a “business-minded kind of administrator.

“The applicants that came, there weren’t many that fit that category,” he told The News. “We did interview a good number, but the bottom line was we didn’t have (anyone) that was a good fit.”

Commissioner Sammy Tostensen suggested the commissioners approach Chapman, Neal said.

At the July commission meeting, Tostensen strongly defended the commission’s handling of the matter ad objected to complaints from the public that the deal smacked of cronyism.

Tostensen has not responded to requests for comment.

While some commissioners say the contract is still being negotiated, Chapman has asserted in writing that the terms had been accepted by the commission, even though the seven members have not met to formally consider Chapman’s compensation.

“All of the benefits and compensation amounts have been agreed to as well as the substantive terms of the agreement,” Chapman wrote on Aug. 21, three days after his candidacy was suddenly revived.

 Brunson said he had not seen the contract until Fendig emailed it to him on Aug. 22.

The former chairman said he was most disturbed by Chapman’s implication in his letter that the contract represented an agreement already made by the commissioners. “I had not been privy to any kind of contract and didn’t even know there was one.

“It’s unbelievable,” Brunson said. “As far as Jeff Chapman goes, it’s a done deal. Four guys got together and pulled the trigger.”

Excellence Exceeded was hired Aug. 10 for $5,000 a month for six months to provide experience and expertise to the county government, which has been severely depleted of professional staff.

But the company’s most important assignment was to find a “seasoned county manager to come in on an interim basis to try to steady the ship and provide some guidance going forward into pretty rocky times,” Brunson said.

He expressed concern about the county’s ability to manage challenges related to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the Georgia-Florida weekend and the October opening of the trial of three men charged in the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery. Additionally, the county lacks experienced leadership in emergency management during what remains of hurricane season.

The firm was also to assist the county to fill a number of these openings. Stewart has developed a specialty in providing interim services to local governments. He also worked for years as an advisor to the US missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The commission has been split 4-3 on Chapman for months. Siding with Chapman have been Fendig, Neal,Tostensen and Walter Rafolski. Brunson, Booker and O’Quinn have been opposed.