Franklin Etheridge, LaFayette's new city manager, eyeing personnel policies

Franklin Etheridge, LaFayette's new city manager, eyeing personnel policies

October 23rd, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Franklin Etheridge

Photo by Andy Johns/Times Free Press.

LAFAYETTE, Ga. -- LaFayette's new city manager is taking a close look at employee policies, the municipal golf course and city personnel.

But he's also defending his own work history, which includes four jobs in 11 years, a suspension and a call for his resignation.

Franklin Etheridge, 51, who took over as city manager for the Walker County town on Oct. 10, says LaFayette is "ahead of the curve" in some aspects but has work to do elsewhere.

He praised the city's airport and active recreation department. He said the city is lucky to have a nice municipal golf course, but said council members had told him to look at ways it could be run efficiently.

"I'm not here to change everything overnight," he said. "Obviously there will be changes."

Etheridge said the city appears to be spending money reasonably, but he will be evaluating the employee roster and pay scale. He said he doesn't plan on layoffs, but said the last time the city had a serious personnel study appeared to be about 12 years ago.

The former Air Force captain said council members also told him to look at personnel policies.

Former city manager Johnnie Arnold abruptly resigned amid controversy last month. Arnold admitted to dating a subordinate and drinking alcohol during a lunch break, but said that did not violate any city policies. Mayor Neal Florence said the new manager would be revising some rules.

LaFayette City Councilman Wayne Swanson said Etheridge's knowledge of codes and downtown development as well as his communication skills made him stand out in the interview process. In their brief interactions since Etheridge moved in, Swanson said, he's continued to be impressed.

"He jumped right in there," Swanson said of the new manager. "He's working a lot of hours already."

Etheridge also discussed his own employment history, which includes posts with Jackson, Habersham and Camden counties in Georgia as well as the city of Pembroke, Ga., all since 2000.

In 2003, Etheridge and his wife were suspended but later cleared and reinstated from government jobs in Camden County, according to reports in the the Georgia Times Union.

According to the paper, a commissioner alleged the couple had shared confidential county information.

Etheridge denied the allegations and said the fact that they were dropped indicates they didn't have merit.

He also was asked to resign from his most recent job in Pembroke.

In March, after two years as Pembroke's city administrator, he was asked to resign. He said the mayor was out to get him after they clashed over fees at the municipal cemetery. Etheridge said he wanted consistency with the rules for purchasing plots, but some city leaders did not want to hold everyone to the same standards.

"One person would probably tell you I did a bad job," he said. "The rest of them would tell you I did a good job."

Pembroke councilman Douglas Kangeter was vague in his assessment of Etheridge's tenure.

"We didn't like some things that were being done," he said, declining to give details.

When asked if the resignation was about cemetery lots as Etheridge maintained, Kangeter said that wasn't the reason.

"There were several reasons," he said.

Pembroke Mayor Judy Cook said "a combination of things" lead to the city's request for Etheridge's resignation, but there was nothing specific she could discuss.

"He needed a bigger challenge," she said. "I think that was the whole thing."

Overall, Cook praised her former city manager for calling him "instrumental" in city planning initiatives and saying she had no problem recommending him for other jobs.

"He was very, very talented," she said. "He did a good job for us."