3 top officials taking retirement
More in county government eligible to accept offer

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's fire chief and two top administrators will take a retirement incentive offer this year.

County staffers have until Aug. 24 to decide whether to take the offer, which includes a week of pay for every two years of service and 20 percent additions to sick and annual leave payouts in exchange for taking an unpaid leave of absence until next July.

The incentive was offered to 316 people eligible or nearing eligibility for retirement in an attempt to shave 250 jobs from the county payroll in tough economic times.

But retirements of some of the county's most experienced and top-level personnel could mean a severe shake-up in the government.

"We had to open up the opportunity to bring our budget issues in line. In the process we are probably going to lose some good people," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "But we have worked on a program to have other people ready to move in, as needed. ... We still have a lot of good employees, a lot of good potential."

On the eligibility list is County Administrator Jock Connell, Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer, Assistant County Administrator Lisa Johnsa, Police Chief Charles Walters, Fire Chief Steve Rolader and Warden David Peek.

Comer, Johnsa and Rolader have said they would step down. Connell declined to discuss his future with the county.

With Peek's Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex expected to close by July 2011, he is "pondering his options."

Rolader said he was planning to retire in the next several months, even before the incentive was offered.

"It looked like a great time. It was good for me personally and it was good for the department," he said. "It's time for new ideas and better ideas."

But Police Chief Walters said he would remain, knowing that the retirements would mean a loss of many of his department's sergeants, lieutenants and majors.

"I don't think it's the right thing to do for the police department right now. ... I owe it to the police department," to work through the tough times, he said.

Comer, who was the county's chief financial officer before becoming chief operating officer, was not available for comment Friday, but Johnsa said she would also step down.

"My intentions were always to retire when I could," she said of her 30-year-tenure with the county. "It turns out to be a little earlier than I thought."

With the recent departure of Susan Lee from deputy county administrator, taking a pay cut to become assistant to the transportation director for health reasons, Connell said it would be unlikely if all three positions in his office were replaced, but he said he did not know how many would be.

"The potential is there to lose a tremendous wealth of experience," he said of the retirement incentive. But he said the county had been in this position before.

"Every time it's happened before, other talented people rose to the occasion to fill the void," he said, adding "under this board's leadership (the new talent will) take this county forward to a bright future."

While Community Services Director Phil Hoskins isn't eligible for retirement, the heads of his divisions parks and recreation operations (Sharon Plunkett) and parks and recreation project administration (Grant Guess) are on the list.

Peek's deputy warden Jeff Sligar is, as well as deputy finance director Chuck Huckleberry, who has been handling the county's trash plan revisions in the wake of a lawsuit.

Several top members of the management staffs of the police and fire department are also eligible for retirement.