The professional future of Cobb’s longtime county manager, David Hankerson, is unclear after an unsuccessful attempt to hire him away for the top job in Fulton County.
Hankerson, who’s led Cobb since 1993, was a finalist for the county manager position in Fulton but withdrew from the running, according to Cobb Chairman Tim Lee. Hankerson’s current contract expires in January, and requires commissioners to give him a 90-day notice to avoid paying severance.
So far, Cobb commissioners are keeping quiet about whether they want Hankerson to stay on past January.
“David and I need to have a conversation in the next 60 days or so as to what he wants to do,” Lee said. “What I want to do is secondary. If he doesn’t want to work anymore, it doesn’t matter what I think. If he wants to continue to work, than it matters what I think.”
Hankerson did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Lee said the county could opt to renew Hankerson’s contract, let him go or let his contract expire and allow him to work day-to-day. The 67-year-old manager is eligible to retire from Cobb, meaning he could draw retirement pay while earning a six-figure salary in Fulton. Former Fulton County Manager Zachary Williams, who earned $200,000 per year, resigned to become DeKalb County’s chief operating officer.
Fulton officials said they couldn’t comment on personnel matters, but spokeswoman Bobbie Battista told a Marietta newspaper Hankerson was the No. 1 pick but didn’t have enough votes on the seven-member board to secure the job.
Lee and other commissioners say there are no hard feelings toward Hankerson for pursing other opportunities. But three out of five commissioners — Lee, Bob Ott and Helen Goreham — declined to say now whether they would support extending Hankerson’s contract. Commissioners Lisa Cupid and JoAnn Birrell said they would support keeping him as manager.
“If he had wanted to go to Fulton, I wouldn’t stand in his way,” Birrell said. “But the Fulton County job doesn’t have any bearing on my decision to keep him or not. I think he’s been an excellent county manager and a tremendous resource.”
Hankerson’s total compensation is $274,007 a year including his $246,923 salary. He is also eligible for 24 weeks of sick and annual leave to be paid out when he retires.
In 2011, Hankerson’s three-year contract was renewed with a 3-2 vote, with Ott and former Commissioner Woody Thompson voicing concerns about the length of the contract. Around the same time, Hankerson faced questions about a no-bid contract on four dump trucks that occurred under his leadership and the expense of keeping a pair of mules purchased for an undeveloped farm. But Cobb, under Hankerson’s leadership, has largely escaped major scandals that have dogged other metro counties.
West Cobb resident and David Welden praised Hankerson’s leadership but said commissioners need to start planning for his eventual exit.
“They have to be moving towards finding a gracefully way of replacing him. He’s going to have to retire here before too long,” Welden said. “They need to have a succession plan that allows him to retire gracefully and be replaced gracefully. And I don’t know if they’re doing that. They shouldn’t be sitting there wondering year-to-year what’s going to happen.”
Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this article.