Officials take second look at restructuring
By Heidi R. Kinchen
Florida Parishes bureau
September 18, 2012
The St. Helena Police Jury could handle parish business more effectively with the creation of a parish manager’s position, a concerned resident told jurors last week.
Fagan Davis Jr. is the second resident in recent months to suggest that jurors could curb wasteful spending, stay more informed, avoid supervisory spats and focus on long-range planning if they hired a manager to handle day-to-day operations between jury meetings.
Davis, a doctoral student of organizational leadership, delivered a presentation during Tuesday’s Police Jury meeting, advocating a more businesslike structure for parish government with a clear chain of command and a parish manager reporting directly to the jurors.
Resident Joe L. Lee, who has a background in human resources, offered similar suggestions earlier this year and even drafted a proposed job description for the manager’s position in May.
While jury members said that having a parish manager would be beneficial, they voted May 22 against creating the position 4-2.
Now, jurors say they are giving the idea another look.
“I think it’s something that needs to be done,” Juror Thomas Wicker said Thursday. “Right now, everybody’s doing their own thing, and nobody really answers to anybody.”
With at least nine staff members reporting to the jurors, department supervisors may be tempted to try to circumvent each other by going directly to their jury representative, Davis said during his presentation.
“There should be a clear line of progression for workers and a clear answer to the question of who is responsible for daily activities,” Davis said.
“It’s definitely probably the right way to go to structure it so you don’t have so many department heads you could go to,” Juror Doug Watson said Thursday. “You just need one person over them all.”
A parish manager also could help jurors stay informed about ongoing issues in the parish and, in particular, items to be addressed during Police Jury meetings, Juror Warren McCray Jr. said Friday.
“A manager would be able to find out what’s really going on, and we could rely on that information to make good decisions,” McCray said. “Right now, sometimes we have to make rash decisions without having it explained fully.”
Budgeting would be another area in which a manager could help jurors streamline and prioritize, Wicker said.
“If a manager is business-minded, he or she clearly would see that we’re way overstaffed,” he said, suggesting that personnel costs account for about 80 percent of over-budget expenditures. “The rest is just waste, unnecessary spending.”
When Lee drafted the job description in May, he recommended Virginia Bell for the position. Bell is the parish’s grants administrator and a School Board member,
“I know she has the credentials,” Lee said of Bell. “And they wouldn’t have to go out and hire another person.”
Jurors Warren McCray Jr. and Theodore McCray Jr. agreed that, for budget reasons in particular, promoting someone already on staff would be a good option.
“We definitely cannot afford to hire any additional people,” Theodore McCray Jr. said Thursday.
Others, including Wicker, suggested it might be better to conduct an external search.
Either way, the parish manager will have to have the full support of the entire board, Theodore McCray Jr. said.
“What bothers me is, for instance, if the parish manager were to bring in a complaint about an employee from a particular district, that juror might tend to try to protect someone from his district,” he said. “Some jurors will not support a manager in those circumstances.”
The next step will be for jurors to discuss the idea again during a personnel committee meeting, Warren McCray Jr. said. The committee will meet Sept. 21.
Whether those discussions will lead to a new position in St. Helena Parish government remains to be seen.
“We’re going to try to follow some of his guidelines,” Jury President Jule Charles Wascom said.
He declined, however, to comment on what course of action the jury may take.
And, there are other potential obstacles to making such a change.
“Do you know how hard it is to get four votes?” Watson asked.