Jim Walker resigns post as Catoosa County, Ga., manager

Jim Walker resigns post as Catoosa County, Ga., manager

February 21st, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Catoosa County, Ga., Manager Jim Walker resigned Tuesday night.

The item was not on the county commission's agenda. But at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Ray Johnson announced elected officials would discuss a personnel decision during a closed-door, executive session. The commissioners then met away from the public for about an hour.

County Attorney Clifton "Skip" Patty then shuffled to the administrative room and asked Sheriff Gary Sisk to escort Walker to his office, where he could get his coat.

After Walker left the building, the commissioners unanimously voted to accept his resignation. Walker and county officials will negotiate a settlement. His contract, which the commission extended in October, ran through 2019.

Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker

Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

When he came on board three years ago, the commission agreed to pay Walker $125,000 a year. County CFO Carl Henson said Tuesday night that the commissioners gave him a pay raise in March, though Henson could not remember the specific amount.

Asked what led to the resignation, Johnson smiled and shook his head.

"Can't say it," he told the Times Free Press.

"He tendered his resignation," County Attorney Chad Young said.

Asked if any of the commissioners were pushing for Walker to leave, none of the elected officials responded.

"He tendered his resignation," Young said again, "and we accepted it. [Until you hit pause on your recorder] I'm just going to keep repeating myself."

Walking out of the building, Commissioner Bobby Winters described the events as if he was shocked by Walker's decision. He said the county manager walked into the room and announced he didn't want to be here anymore. Asked why Johnson added "personnel decisions" to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, Winters said he wasn't sure.

He told the Times Free Press he supported Walker and would not have fired him, if it came to that.

"If he wants to leave," Winters said, "we'll let him leave."

Henson will serve as the interim county manager while the commissioners search for a replacement.

Before joining the county in 2015, Walker served as Alabama's director of homeland security for seven years and the liaison between the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and Alabama and Mississippi in the wake of the BP oil spill. He then worked as the manager of Henry County, Ga., a municipality with a population of 211,000 — more than three times that of Catoosa County.

He did butt heads with some members of the community during his tenure. In 2016, he moved County Coroner Vanita Hullender's office from the courthouse to an annex building across the street. She thought the decision was disrespectful.

"You kind of feel betrayed that your peers would do this," she said at the time on UCTV, a local cable-access network. "It's been a lot of stress. I've had issues with my blood pressure since this has been going on."

Judy O'Neal, who manages the TV station, pointed out that Walker is not from around here.

"A lot of people come into our community and think we're podunks, that we don't know what we're doing, that we're just green as a gourd," she said. "That's not true. We've been operating this county for a long time. When you're in Rome, you need to do as the Romans do."

At the time, Walker told the Times Free Press he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. The commissioners had just added a state court for misdemeanors and some civil litigation. They hired a judge, a prosecutor and other staff members. He said they had to work in the courthouse with beefed-up security, in case unhappy plaintiffs wanted to find them.

"History will show that we are doing things reasonably and prudently," he said at the time.

For more than a year, Walker feuded off and on with the director of the Ringgold Youth Sports Association, a nonprofit organization that played on county courts and fields. After a couple of parents complained, Walker said he heard that the director might not be properly accounting for the funds, prompting a criminal investigation. The county also suspended the association from using county property.

The district attorney did not bring charges in the case. And parents involved with the nonprofit packed several meetings, protesting what they felt was a witch hunt.

After Tuesday's meeting, Walker did not return a text message seeking comment. A call to his phone number went directly to voicemail.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.