Lee said Hankerson has agreed to accept the proposal, which offers the same terms as his existing contract.
Lee said he’s also spoken with district commissioners who approve of the deal, with the exception of Commissioner Bob Ott, who wants it to be a one-year contract.
Ott made the same argument three years ago.
“I think three years is too long,” Ott said. “I think it ties the hands of the board too much, it doesn’t allow us the flexibility that I think the board needs to have.”
Ott said he’s not suggesting that Hankerson is doing a bad job.
“I’ve enjoyed working with him for the last couple of years, but he’s the only contract employee in the county,” Ott said. “I understand that in that position contracts are the norm. I just think three years is too much.”
Lee explained why a three-year contract was needed.
“When you do a senior management person like this, a CEO, that person needs to needs to be able to plan and project out long term where the organization is going over the course, and most of the stuff that David works on is planning for the future, and if you’re only here for a year your scope of looking forward is a year,” Lee said.
Hankerson joined the county in 1984 as community development director and was promoted to county manager in 1993. The last amendment to his contract was approved Jan. 27, 2011, and will expire Jan. 31, 2014.
He receives a base salary of $246,923 and total compensation of $274,007.
Lee said under the terms of the new contract, Hankerson would be eligible for a 3 percent merit pay raise just as all other county employees are, but other than that his salary would remain the same.
Flirting with Fulton Hankerson withdrew his name from being considered as the new county manager of Fulton County in May. He was one of three finalists for that position. A spokeswoman for Fulton Board of Commissioners Chairman John Eaves said Hankerson didn’t have the needed votes from the seven-member board to be hired.
Lee said there are too many issues on the table that require a county manager with institutional knowledge, which is why he wants Hankerson to stay another three years.
“Next year we’ve got a lot of stuff that’s going to be in front of us, and I needed his experience and expertise to lead that,” Lee said. “No. 2, we still have some relatively new managers in place and his institutional knowledge and basically being a leader for these new folks and getting their feet under them a little bit more is an asset, so next year we’ve got the strategic plan, House Bill 489, priority-based budgeting and a biannual budget all coming together at one time, and I just need him to get that in place and defined.”
Georgia law under HB 489 requires the county and its six cities to approve an agreement every 10 years to minimize inefficiencies resulting from duplication of services. That 10-year anniversary hits next year.
The county is also rolling out a new way of building a budget next year, called priority-based budgeting.
“You set up all your services, define what the service level should be for each, what the cost is to each, and then how the best way to pay for it,” Lee said. That’s different from how the county has traditionally done things, “Where people come up and say, ‘I want $350,000 because that’s what I spent last year.’”
And then there is the five-year strategic plan the Board of Commissioners is set to adopt next week that needs to be carried out.
Lee said once he brings closure to those issues, then it would make sense to bring in a new county manager.
“It’s a good transition period, because if I bring closure to those issues then we have a new budgeting process, we have a new 489 agreement, we have the Citizens Oversight Committee report put behind us, and we have a new horizon so that makes for a good transition period,” he said.
Tag-teaming the board Some critics say Lee and Hankerson work differently together than former county chairman Sam Olens and Hankerson did. For one, Olens also chaired the Atlanta Regional Commission, which took up much of his time.
“Do we work tighter than he and Sam? Maybe. Well, that’s because things are tighter. When things are tighter financially you’ve got to touch base more often,” Lee said. “I have to be more hands-on day-to-day, not that I’m second guessing him, but that we’re bouncing off each other what’s the best way to go forward. I’ve got a board over there that’s different from the one Sam had, so some things in the past you would have introduced it would have went through without any issue. Now each board member is a little bit more involved than in the past, so it takes a little more time.”
For efficiency, when there are half a dozen issues to be resolved, Lee said he will take half and Hankerson the other half to discuss with commissioners one on one so the burden is shared.
Hankerson explained why he accepted another three-year contract offer.
“No. 1, I love Cobb,” he said. “We’ve still got some exciting things and some things that need to be done.”
Hankerson acknowledged that it was unusual for a county manager to have served in one job as long as he has. He shared the secret to his longevity.
“I think surrounding myself with good employees and having that desire to continue to work with a team to try to make the county better, and I think working together over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work with as a department head and as manager with some great boards, and to continue a lot of the things as part of the team that we’ve had great leaders in this county start going back to Herbert McCollum and Ernest Barrett, and I’ve just worked for a great team including our employees, and I’ve seen a lot of it go to having a great team of employees.”
Hankerson, 67, who lives in west Cobb with his wife, Janet, has four children and two grandchildren.
“I just think he’s a great man,” Lee said. “He’s done this county well, and I think he’s still got the energy and commitment to continue to go above and beyond the responsibilities of the county manager to make sure this county is the best it can be, and we’re looking at continuing to make the county the best place to live work and play.”