Jackson manager wants more say in hiring, firing

Chuck Wooten’s wings are still clipped as Jackson County’s manager, at least for now, but it looks like he’ll get big-boy hiring and firing powers soon.

Commissioners this week failed to act on Wooten’s request that he no longer bring all personnel decisions before them for approval, but pledged to revisit it soon.

Most county managers in the state have the power to hire and fire county employees. And until recently, Jackson’s manager did as well.

But when three new county commissioners swept into office, they pulled that power away from the county manger. At the time Ken Westmoreland, who left the post the next day, although there are still conflicting stories on whether he was made to leave by the new commissioners or left voluntarily.

Their rationale for overseeing hiring themselves was to ensure vacant positions really needed filling.

When Wooten came on board as a stopgap replacement for Westmoreland, he warned commissioners in January that the decision was posing a problem, mainly in clogging up the process of effective county government.

So they backed off part of that mandate, allowing department heads who are primarily state funded — such as social services and the health department, for example — to use their own discretion. They also said Wooten could make decisions when positions were contracted or grant funded.

Jackson County commissioners did, however, retain oversight for county positions paid for purely with county money.

Wooten is no longer the “interim” county manager, however, and is at the helm in a permanent capacity. The request to have full hiring and firing authority would seem to reflect Wooten’s growing comfort level in the post and with commissioners. And, the commissioners comfort level with him.

Queried after the meeting this week, the board of commissioners seemed united in wanting to grant Wooten full manager powers, but a couple said they had timing concerns — as in being kept informed on decisions being made, and when they would learn about hires.

“We’re just concerned about the time frame, that’s all,” Commissioner Mark Jones said.

— By Quintin Ellison

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