J.C. (Buddy) Johnson, III
The Grady County Board of Commissioners and County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson, III will have to go back to square one on an employment contract between the county and Johnson after it was determined the existing contract violates a county ordinance.
Gabe Ridley, attorney for the Grady County commission, did not draft the current contract nor review it prior to its execution. Ridley updated the commissioners on his research into the legality of the contract after issues were recently raised by concerned citizens.
Ridley informed the board that section 265 of the county’s code of ordinances requires the county administrator to be an employee of the county. Under the provisions of the contract executed by the commission late last year with Johnson that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, the county is paying Johnson’s private limited liability corporation and he is serving as an independent contractor, not as a county employee.
Johnson says the goal was to save the county money by eliminating the burden of the county having to pay payroll taxes on the administrator or other benefits.
“I understand the arrangement was designed to save money, but until the county’s ordinances are amended it is not permitted. Under your direction, I can prepare an employment engagement for your review,” Ridley said.
The board voted unanimously to direct Ridley to draw up a proposed new contract between the county and Johnson as an employee of the county and to present it to the board and to Johnson for review and comment.
“Let me know when you have the contract ready,” Chairman Keith Moye instructed the attorney.
Tuesday’s meeting opened with public comment, and Richard Jordan, a republican candidate for the District 1 county commission seat currently held by Commissioner June Knight, voiced his concerns with the current contract between the county and Johnson’s LLC.
Jordan alleged that Johnson sought to have his compensation paid through his company rather than personally to avoid a cut in his state retirement benefits.
According to Jordan, Johnson “could not receive more than around $20,000 in compensation without a reduction in disability retirement benefits” that the administrator is paid by the State of Georgia.
Jordan further alleged that if the benefits related to Johnson being provided a county vehicle to drive, “he probably could not receive any compensation to be our Grady County administrator” because it would affect his disability retirement benefits.
“In my opinion, this whole contract stinks to high heaven,” Jordan said. He said it was troubling that neither the county attorney, county auditor nor the county staff had read it in full prior to adoption. He alleged that he “knew” the auditor had not read it because he pointed out accounting irregularities within the document to the auditor.
Jordan also said that he had contacted officials with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The ACCG official he spoke with allegedly described the contract with Johnson’s LLC as “very odd” and offered to review it, but only if a commissioner launched an inquiry into the matter.
Jordan said he asked Commissioner Knight to launch an inquiry, but he said she declined.
“To that I say if you see something say something,” Jordan said and he added, “Guys, I’m just asking you to run it (the county) like a business, run it like your business.”
Later in the meeting, the county administrator, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to a health issue, but participated via conference call, responded to Jordan’s allegations.
“This is a personal attack against me. His whole argument is ridiculous. While he has researched a law, he has failed to research the litigation of that law so that has nothing to do with what we are dealing with here,” Johnson said.
The administrator went further and stated, “I caution Mr. Jordan in this public meeting to be careful talking about my disabilities. That is a HIPAA issue. Let’s be real careful what we start barking off personally about somebody in meetings.”
Johnson said he had no problem with being contracted personally as a county employee. “In fact, it’s in my benefit to be an employee. I like to see the county save money and that’s why we did it. Just trying to save money,” he said.
The county administrator said, “I do not appreciate the personal attacks,” and he suggested Jordan “get over himself” and “enough is enough.”
Johnson, a resident of Miller County, has served as the county administrator since September 2018. Just prior to accepting the position, he concluded a 27-year career with the Georgia State Patrol, retiring as Troop Commander and Captain for the Southwest Georgia region.
The current employment contract, which remains in effect, was approved in December and Johnson’s compensation remains $90,000, which is what he has been paid since coming to work here. The existing contract also provides Johnson 20 days of annual leave and 20 days of sick leave in addition to the use of a county vehicle. However, he has waived county health insurance benefits.