Contract extension in works for administrator

LAWRENCEVILLE - Expecting a heated political battle over the next year and a half, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly wants to keep one constant in Gwinnett government.

So next week, he will bring before the Board of Commissioners a proposal to extend County Administrator Jock Connell's contract through the year 2010.

"People get too involved in who was in there under what regime," Kenerly said Wednesday. "I don't want Jock and this county to suffer next year in the campaign."

The proposal, which Kenerly and fellow Commissioner Bert Nasuti negotiated with Connell, includes a raise from $200,191.89 to $225,000, a $1,500 increase in payments to Connell's pension plan and two weeks' vacation in excess of the amount given to all county staff.

Connell's salary would be boosted above the top administrators in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Atlanta, but Kenerly said Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks makes $289,323 and Gwinnett Health System CEO Phil Wolfe brings in $500,000 annually.

"It speaks for itself," Connell said of the proposal. He did allow a cap on accruing vacation time, a benefit that drew fire when the original agreement was signed in 2005.

Connell said he doesn't worry about his job status.

"It creates stability not only in this position but at the staff level," he added. "In an election, it's critically important you keep the government services operating in a smooth fashion."

Kenerly, who has said he won't seek re-election in 2010, and Nasuti are the only commissioners who are not up for election in 2008.

Two years ago, when elections caused turnover in the other three positions, Kenerly worked to have Connell, who was second in command at the time, named county administrator.

While candidates won't qualify for the 2008 election until next year, Kenerly said he wanted to secure Connell's status even if all three incumbents are ousted. Despite the contract, though, three members of the board can vote to fire Connell at any time.

"I think it's a good idea," to extend the contract, said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who is up for election next year. "I think he's done a tremendous job leading the county. His job is of paramount importance to make sure this government runs smoothly, no matter who is in elected office."

Other commissioners did not return phone calls Wednesday.