Scott holds press conference, defends county manager nominee - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Scott holds press conference, defends county manager nominee

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Since announcing his nominee to become the next county manager almost a week ago, Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott and nominee William Lee Smith have come under a lot of scrutiny:  Scott for his selection process and Smith for some financial issues at his last job. 

Scott held a news conference on Thursday defending his search process and nominee.

People wondered why the search wasn't made public.  Where was the list of finalists that would be whittled down from five to two then a final vote?

Scott said the process he used was much more intense. "We've seen some mistakes made using that process in the past, and we didn't want to repeat those mistakes."

Scott started the search process nine months ago after he learned that current county manager, Russ Abolt, was going to retire.  The search firm, Stanton and Chase Enterprises, sought out and interviewed 40 people. 

Six of those were referred to Chairman Scott.  Those six underwent a personality and behavior evaluation.  Those that made it through that round had to sign a waiver for a 20 year background check including looking into their financial records, criminal history, and even social media use.

With all that information, Scott was well aware of payroll issues that Smith had in his prior county manager job in Wayne County, North Carolina.  

In one on one interviews, Smith explained the glitch and again today in front of the media.  His staff had switched Wayne Co., NC to a whole new county payroll system in 2012.

"As soon as I got the call that there was an issue with payroll, particularly with under payments, over payments are another issue, but with under payments, you want to make sure people are paid properly, and that was done with the Suffix Payroll in 24-48 hours." Smith explained.​​​​

That explanation was good enough for the chairman. "To me it was no longer an issue, and those are not show stoppers when you do a 20 year background check," Scott said. 

And he took it a step further. "I'll be willing to bet you that we know more about Lee than she does," referring to Smith's wife, Bambi, who was also at the press conference.

Smith also addressed his leave of absence in December, saying that he had a medical procedure and needed time off. Smith said he had started looking for another job long before the payroll issues popped up. 

He said, "Could I have stayed? Probably, but I chose, for my own career, to move a larger area with more responsibility and make a change."

Some of the changes he made while he was county manager echo Chatham's changes and challenges, like combining emergency medical systems.

"It had two paid systems in two municipalities and a huge volunteer system and over a year's time it was my first task to combine that project into a county-wide self sustaining enterprise," he explained. 

That merger was not unlike when Chatham County Police and Savannah Police merged.

His staff had trouble tackling the new payroll system, however.  He admitted that his first explanation of a "blip" in the system may have seemed a little insentive when it came to dollars and over and under payments of county employees, and he was not directly in charge of payroll. 

District 6 Commissioner Lori Brady said she's met with Smith and thinks his explanations are justified.

"He had two administrative directors in charge of making that system work, and it is very difficult when you're drawing money out of different pots to make it all flow properly.  And they went from a basic system to punching a time clock."

Brady said Smith is enthusiastic and well-rounded, and if they vote next commission meeting, on April 11, her vote is "Yea".

And Smith said he's ready to hit the ground running.  "You're a fast growing community, and it will get away from you very quickly if you're not careful," he said.

One question that came up in the news conference was if there were any local contenders for the position. There were, they just didn't meet the search firm's rigorous vetting process. 

The search cost the county $42,000.

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