Published 4:38 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

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GATESVILLE – Thanks, but no thanks.

After being tasked with the effort of reorganizing several departments of local government, a proposal from Gates County Manager Tim Wilson was rejected by the county’s Board of Commissioners at their meeting here Jan. 19.

Wilson presented the plan to the commissioners at their Dec. 15 meeting, a proposal that would reorganize the Planning Department, Building Inspections, and the Customer Services Department. At that meeting he noted the commissioners had previously directed him to devise a reorganizational plan and come up with proposals that would lead to increased efficiency.

“My original recommendation, which I made on more than one occasion, was that there should be a countywide reorganization or an organizational and staffing plan. That unfortunately did not gain traction, but that’s the prerogative of the board to make those decisions,” Wilson said at the Jan. 19 meeting. “But upon the request to look at certain departments, I did suggest reorganization of Planning & Inspections, Water, Customer Service, and the Financial Services departments. There was discussion on this and the board said they wanted more time to consider these changes.

“Commissioner [Linda] Hofler stated she was a visual person and wanted to see these organizational changes on a chart,” Wilson continued. “That’s what you have before you this evening. Other than that I have no additional information to present, other than my desire for this to be a countywide reorganizational review as opposed to a piecemeal review.”

Wilson reminded the board that they reserve the right to organize and reorganize how local government is structured as well as determining the positions and the number of positions of local government.

Commissioner Jonathan Craddock asked Wilson if there were any complaints from the citizens regarding the current employees of the departments which are being considered for reorganization.

“No, I have not received any complaints in terms of the performance of those departments,” Wilson answered.

As a county citizen, Craddock said he is having a new home built and has worked closely with the Building Inspections department since June of last year.

“That department is seamless [in operation] in my opinion. You go in, get your permits, and they help you fill them out if you’re not sure of what you’re doing,” Craddock said. “They take you over to the Zoning Department where you hand off the permits. Why are we reorganizing something that’s already seamless?”

Craddock said he asked for what costs would be incurred with the reorganization, but has yet to receive an answer from the county manager.

“I’ve talked to [construction] contractors and they have absolutely no complaints,” Craddock continued. “When you call, you get answer. When you call for inspection, they are there that same afternoon or the next morning.”

He then asked Wilson about the projected costs for reorganization.

“It would be a slight increase in that salary,” Wilson answered, referencing the salary of the director of that department.

“I’m looking for a definite…is it going to cost $2,500 a year more, $5,000 a year more,” Craddock inquired. “That was the question I posed in an email sent Dec. 19.”

Dr. Althea Riddick, chair of the commissioners, said prior to Wilson’s hiring last year, the board was discussing operational efficiencies and effectiveness of the services the county provides.

“When Mr. Tim Wilson was hired, one of the first things this board talked about was looking at reorganization and technology,” Riddick said. “This was not something that Mr. Wilson thought about right off the bat. We gave the county manager a directive to look at something and that’s what he did.”

She then asked Wilson to explain why this reorganization is needed and what it means going forward for the county.

“I saw that this county does have quite a few departments with not a lot of people working in those departments,” Wilson noted. “A way to better streamline those management positions, the department head positions, which typically are higher-paid positions, is housing all of the development functions under one department – in this case a Planning and Development department. That is a very common practice amongst smaller departments. It allows one person, a single director, to make sure that there is a continuous flow on how applications are processed.”

He added that, “reorganization is not a commentary on anybody’s abilities.” Rather, he said the current structure of the county’s Planning and Inspections departments are already intertwined in the services they offer.

“None of this reorganization will reduce staff or cause a reduction of service,” Wilson stressed. “Customer Service technicians will remain at their current location. There could possibly be a relocation of the position that now heads Customer Service to be a billing administrator in the Utility (Water & Wastewater) Department. I have not made any hard and fast decisions of the relocation of that person’s workspace.”

As to the proposed reorganization of the Planning Department and Building Inspections, Craddock said it appeared to him that, “we’re going to make it one department with one director and it’s going to cost us more money to get the same services.”

“By having one director you have better control to make sure that the seamless permitting process remains,” Wilson remarked. “The primary purpose of this would be to get all of the development code activities under one department under the charge of one person. That way you don’t have two, for lack of a better term, dueling department heads at odds over how certain processes should work. It makes for a more streamline management process.”

Hofler said she wanted to make sure that, based on the discussion at the meeting, the only action needed now would be for possible reorganization of the Planning Department, which includes Code Enforcement, with Building Inspections.

“You said earlier you want to wait until hiring a new director for the Water Department before reorganizing there,” Hofler said.

“You can approve that with a future effective date at such time a new director is hired for the Utility Department,” Wilson suggested.

The discussion took a turn back towards the salary of the director of what would become, if approved, Planning and Development.

“That person will be asked to supervise and bring into the fold, under one department, all development ordinances and if there ever is a discrepancy you do have a singular department head who can handle that,” Wilson said. “There will be additional supervisory duties.”

Craddock put a motion on the floor to not accept the county manager’s recommendations for departmental reorganization. Commissioner Ray Freeman offered a second to the motion.

“One factor we don’t have is the [projected] cost increase, and I wish we did have that to help us make a decision,” said Commissioner Jack Owens.

The motion was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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