Jack Forsythe, who served in executive roles with NASA and FEMA/Homeland Security, was selected as the county’s public safety director just one year ago.
Now that he’s resigned, County Chairman Tim Lee said Cobb Fire Chief Sam Heaton has been appointed interim public safety director. Lee said he plans to ask the Board of Commissioners to appoint Heaton to the position permanently at its Jan. 14 meeting. Heaton served as interim public safety director prior to the Board of Commissioners hiring Forsythe.
“It’s unfortunate,” Commissioner Bob Ott said of the resignation. “I’m sorry to see Jack go. I really enjoyed working with him over the last year. I think he’s a pure professional and I wish him well. It’s unfortunate that he’s leaving.”
In his Jan. 6 letter to county manager David Hankerson, Forsythe said public safety in Cobb County “has suffered from a lack of sufficient funding and resources to properly sustain the appropriate level of personnel, facilities and equipment needed to provide an adequate level of protection for the citizens of Cobb County.”
Forysthe said the lack of support for public safety has increased officer safety issues, reduced the number of officers available for calls, increased fire response times and brought about the “degradation of the morale” of all public safety personnel.
There was an immediate need, he said, for a major infusion of resources to enhance public safety, which has “now been exacerbated with the announcement of the Atlanta Braves coming to Cobb County.”
Forsythe blamed Hankerson for blocking efforts of reform, writing “… I have come to realize that no matter what information I have provided to you in the past or will provide to you in the future, history has proven that short of some catastrophic event, you as county manager will continue to deny or take no immediate action on behalf of the county to move forward with the recommended public safety enhancements provided by your public safety officials.”
Forsythe said he has notified Hankerson and Lee for more than a year of the “crisis” developing in the police department resulting from the number of officers leaving the department and the county’s inability to attract and retain new recruits.
Hankerson, he said, blocked him from completing a management study to validate his analysis.
“You have stated the county is not ready for what the report will say nor can the county afford the number of officers the report will say we need, therefore the study has not been given approval from your office to proceed even after I was directed by the chairman to complete the study,” Forsythe writes.
On four occasions, he said, Hankerson notified him that he has the authority to fire him “… and on Aug. 16, 2013, you went as far as to threaten me and stated in anger that you and I are not going to make it, that one of us will be departing soon.”
“You further stated that I don’t do things the Cobb Way. It appears the ‘Cobb Way’ is not to disagree or buck the current procedures, regardless of the validity or legality of the ‘Cobb Way’ process,” Forsythe said.
County spokesman Robert Quigley said Forsythe received a salary of $138,000. Forsythe says in his letter that his salary was $30,000 below the national average for public safety directors.
When hired last January, he made a commitment to work for one year, he said, a commitment that has ended.
Forsythe had high praise for the firefighters, police officers and other employees who make up the public safety department, and singling out Heaton, Police Chief John Houser and Emergency 911 Director Ann Flynn.
“I personally thank John, Sam and Ann for their support and friendship over the past year,” he wrote. “I will always cherish my time with these leaders and all of the members of public safety, and wish the best to them and Cobb County now and in the future.”
In his latest job evaluation, which allows for the categories of “does not meet requirements, needs improvement, meets requirements” and exceeds requirements,” Hankerson checked the box of “meets requirements” for Forsythe.
Hankerson also gave Forsythe a list of goals to achieve this year, beginning with “support the Board of Commissioners and County Manager in general, and as pertains to public safety.”
“We appreciate all of Jack’s efforts serving as public safety director for the last year and wish him well,” Lee said. “Jack decided it was not where he wanted to be long term so we went back to Sam and we think we’ve grown a great asset internally with Sam, and he did a good job as interim, so we’re going to move forward with Sam, and I fully support Sam’s recommendation to be the public safety director.”