County administrator feels blessed by success

Now Jock Connell has his initials monogrammed in his dress shirts, but when he was in college, his fashion sense was so bad that his fraternity made it into an event.

Connell, Gwinnett's county administrator who attributes all his success to his wife, sat down with senior writer Camie Young to talk about his virtues and vices, his success and the people that took him there.

CY: How did you get your name?

JC: I don't know. I don't know if my parents put a lot of thought into it or if they just had a bad day. But that is my real name, Jock. A lot of people think that's a nickname, but it's my real name.

I think my mom and dad had heard it somewhere and they liked it. There's no real family history behind it. It's one you remember.

As a matter of fact, I never even heard the name until I knew Jock Ewing on "Dallas" had the same name. (laughter)

CY: So what is it exactly that you do?

JC: Well, if you ask me to sum that up, my responsibilities really lie in the day-to-day running of Gwinnett County, at least the functions that report to the Board of Commissioners.

The good thing about it, Camie, is there are probably no two days that are the same. ...

You know, a lot of people get caught up in Gwinnett County and what's going on, get caught up in the zoning, and they should be focused on the zoning piece because that's very important.

But the truth of the matter is in the overall scheme of what goes on in Gwinnett County, zoning is a very, very small piece. I don't know what percentage you'd put on it, but it might be 5 percent or less when you start thinking about running water and sewer and police and fire and administrator functions and parks and those type of things. The running of this place day-to-day is really the essence of what makes a quality of life in Gwinnett County.

I'm fortunate in that I like to stay busy and this job keeps me busy. And I like to do lots of different things and I'm fortunate this job lets me do lots of different things.

You can guess in the routine running of this place, there are fires that you are fighting just about every single day. Whatever the priorities were yesterday at 5 o'clock, trust me, at 8 o'clock this morning, they reshuffled. There's another list of 'em.

In summary, it's the running of this operation on a day-to-day basis, and, this is probably the most important thing, carrying out the policy of the Board of Commissioners.

CY: How is that? Do you ever get caught in the politics?

JC: I think it would be disingenuous to say that I don't get caught in the politics.

But I think sometimes people think that only government is politics. ... There are politics that play no matter where you're at. ... But certainly in a job like this, you work for five politicians. They are elected. They all want to do well. They all, in my point of view, want to represent the citizens and make the county a better place, but that doesn't mean they all agree on things. When they don't agree on things, sure, the administrator gets caught in that. There's no doubt about that.

But I don't really view that as a negative. I really view that as a positive because it creates an opportunity to get dialogue going on issues.

CY: How did you end up at this point? What was your career path?

JC: I attended the University of Georgia, which I'm very proud of to this day. I am a Bulldog through and through.

CY: Let's stop there because I have a question. I heard there is a golf tournament at UGA named after you. (laughter)

JC: Well, there is a golf tournament in my fraternity named after me.

CY: What fraternity was that?

JC: Phi Gamma Delta. That's Fiji. We were the only fraternity on campus in my opinion. I'm very proud of it. A lot of people have graduated from there and have gone on to be very successful, many of them right here in Gwinnett County.

The fraternity was a big part of my college life. I made friends and acquaintances there that I still interact with today, and it went a long way toward helping me build a foundation in my life, so I'll always owe a debt of gratitude to the University of Georgia and the fraternity I was in.

CY: So what about the golf tournament?

JC: It's kind of ironic this golf tournament was named after me. In college, I had a red, white and blue plaid coat. It was vintage 1960s, I think. And I didn't know much better. I used to wear that coat to church and different outings.

One of the guys thought they were going to have a mock golf tournament. This golf tournament is played on the front lawn of the fraternity yard, through the house, across the sorority yard next door, and people dress up in rather comical outfits, and it's played with plastic golf balls.

I guess the irony is me, someone who doesn't drink, there's quite a bit of alcohol partaken when this tournament is played. It's held in the spring, and it's quite an event for the fraternity.

CY: Do you still go?

JC: No. I get back from time to time, but other commitments don't allow me to go back.

CY: Let's go back to your career path. When did you start working for Gwinnett County?

JC: I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1980, and I had a business degree from the Terry College of Business. It was in risk management and insurance, and I worked in the private sector for just under four years with an insurance company. ...

A friend called me and said, "Jock, I saw an ad in the paper. Gwinnett County is looking for a director of risk management. You'd be a great candidate."

I didn't think much of it, but I came back, I put in an application and five months later, I ended up getting hired as the director of risk management. Charlotte Nash hired me.

That's how I got started in Gwinnett County in October of '86.

I became the assistant finance director in November of December of 1994. And then a few months later, when Charlotte Nash became the administrator, I became the finance director in August of 1995. I was the deputy administrator from March of 2000 until January of 2005 when I became the administrator. ...

I've also had the opportunity to work for a number of what I would call outstanding elected officials. Every one them has had the best interest of Gwinnett County at heart and I've been impressed by every single one of them. They have been a factor in me being as successful as I have, but a very special part of my life up here that I would be highly remiss if I didn't mention her is Charlotte Nash.

Charlotte took a chance on me 21 years ago. She is someone that taught me the ropes and gave me the leeway to try things. She taught me this business. She's probably one of the finest public servants I've ever known and one of the finest people I've ever known ... I've been blessed certainly beyond anything I deserve.

Of all the success I've had, I attribute it first of all to God's blessing, but second of all to the support I've had from my wife Tina.

CY: Are your kids following in your footsteps?

JC: Well, I have two children. I have a son, Barry, who is 24 years of age. He graduated from the University of Georgia last August. He's got a business degree. It turned out it was in risk management/insurance. That was his decision, not mine. He works with Chubb Insurance down in Buckhead. He has gone into the private sector in insurance.

I have daughter, Emily, and she is a sophomore at the University of Georgia right now, so both of them are Bulldogs too.

CY: Did they play in the golf tournament?

JC: My son played in the golf tournament, yes. My daughter, I'd just as soon keep her away from the golf tournament. (laughter)

CY: I know you are often seen running around the court

house at lunchtime. When did that start?

JC: When I went to college my freshman year, I probably gained about 25 pounds. I came home that first summer, and I thought, "You know, I've got to lose weight. I've got to get in shape again." ...

I do that kind of to stay in shape and as a stress reliever. You don't see me running very much with anybody. ... That's kind of the one time during the day where for 35, 40 minutes I kind of decompress and let my mind wander a bit and try not to think of anything too serious.

CY: Has anyone ever tried to stop you and talk about issues?

JC: Oh yeah, oh yeah. The funny thing about this job is you don't go many places where someone doesn't want to talk to you. It doesn't matter whether it's the grocery store or Sunday school or the church service, going out to run or going downstairs to get a glass of tea. People see you, and they want to ask you a question. That's fine. I don't mind at all. That comes with the job. If it helps them out, I'm happy to do it.

CY: You mentioned your sweet tea. I understand that you request that wherever you go. Have you been able to get it in New York when you go visit the bond rating agencies?

JC: That is one of my vices in life is sweet tea. If it's not sweet tea, it's just colored water. I do love sweet tea.

But I have not been able to get it in New York. I've quit asking because they look at me funny.

CY: Do you have any other favorites?

JC: (Sigh) People say, "Where do you like to eat?" By far, my favorite, Chik-fil-A. I love Chik-fil-A. I like it because it's good food and the company and the principles it stands for are things that I have a lot of admiration for.

If you want to get to finer dining, I like Longhorns, too. (laughter) If you call that fine dining.

CY: Now that you have a golf tournament named after you, do you want a county building? How do you see yourself leaving your mark?

JC: No, I don't want buildings named after me. I don't want things like that.

You know, I don't know how much I believe in that legacy stuff. I'll tell you what's really important, whether I leave here or whether I leave this world.

What would be good for me to know is people said - I'll save the most important thing for last - that he was a good guy, that he was an honest guy, that he was ethical, that he treated people kindly and courteously, that he was fair, and probably the most important thing of all, that he conducted his life in a Christian manner. That's important to me.

I'm proud of a lot of things we've done here. I'm proud of our triple AAA bond rating, I'm proud of how sound we are financially, I'm proud of our capital improvement program, we've done a lot of good things with our sales tax program. I'm proud that we've been good financial stewards. I'm proud of what our management team has done because I think since '05 the management team, they've taken over and they've stepped up to the plate and done things.

But the truth of the matter is there are people other than me that had a part in that, and lots of people that came before me had a part in that.

I guess if when I leave here, if people say positive things about my character, that's important to me. Beyond that, you know, if there is such a thing as a legacy for me, that's what I want it to be.