Lisa Cupid’s complete statement on her vote on the Jackie McMorris appointment

District 4 Commissioner Lisa CupidDistrict 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The following is the complete statement delivered at Tuesday’s meeting of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners by District 4 Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid about why she voted “no” on the approval of the promotion of Dr. Jackie McMorris to the post of Cobb County Manager.

I wish that my role on this board has been an easy one. And it hasn’t always been.

And I think it’s expedient to sometimes  make the easy decisions.

But I think that I have shown to be principled in the way that I conduct myself on this board, and to be pragmatic.

Despite what any headlines may say you will certainly hear from my head and my heart this evening.

I think the world of our Deputy County Manager Jackie McMorris.  I think the absolute world of her.  I hold her in high esteem not only for the level of excellence of which she approaches her work but for her character and her thoughtfulness.

She will make a fine county manager.

The county manager is the highest-level administrative officer within our county government.

The county manager is indeed the Chief Executive Officer of Cobb County, and exercises control over all departments or divisions of the county excluding those assigned under our constitutional officers and our judiciary.

They supervise thousands of men and women in the State of Georgia’s third most populous county.

The county manager sees that all laws and ordinances of the county are enforced amongst the list of other responsibilities.

The primary issue today has to do with ensuring that we follow reasonable processes when it shows that we are fairly regarding the interests of all people.

So despite my heart that I have for Dr. McMorris and my appreciation and respect for her, and she knows me very well, very well … and my approach to this decision I’m sure comes as no surprise to her as anyone that has seen me lead here in the county.

And it disheartens me that we’re put in this situation today.

It disheartens me that she has been put in this situation here today. For this board to be confronted with such a decision, yes, at the State of the County address, without there ever being a discussion amongst the board, collectively.

Reasonable processes in hiring key department, division or agency heads in Cobb County has typically meant that we have applied at least one of the following acts:

We have discussed the open position with the county manager.

We discussed possible positions with the hiring manager,

(We) discussed the open positions of candidates with commissioners in an executive session.

We’ve opened the hiring process internally.

We opened the hiring process externally.

We had HR review and narrow down the pool of candidates.

We have an interview of top candidates through a committee.

And we have the county manager also interview top candidates that have been narrowed down.

30:45We have the county manager forward top candidates to the BOC for review.

And the Board of Commissioners interviews the candidates with the HR manager and the hiring manager.

We don’t always apply all of those steps. But we at least have one of those steps.

I firmly believe that if we were to appoint the county manager in the fashion with which it’s been presented, that there would lack a reasonable process for the board to have constructively discussed the appointment collectively, and with reasonable time constraint that is commensurate to the level of authority, influence and responsibility of this role.

And that is consistent with the level of consideration that we have given when hiring other executive positions of this county that are subordinate to the role of a county manager.

Why do I question this process as being not reasonable?

I do not believe again we have ever hired a key head of a division without utilizing one of the steps that I shared.

And I can refer to two recent examples.

Just yesterday we interviewed candidates for the Support Services director, which is subordinate to the county manager.

That interview of the Board of Commissioners was preceded by an interview with the county manager. It was preceded by a committee which narrowed a pool of applicants.

And applicants were considered both internally and externally.

Prior to hiring that position we hired a water systems director.  That director at least had a county manager interview. 

And when that candidate was going to be put forward by the county manager, for a Board of Commissioners meeting for us to vote, I shared that we should at least make sure that we open this position up.

So even though things are moving full steam ahead for us to have that person appointed, we stepped back, we opened thet position up.and we did hire internally after that candidate showed herself to be highly competitive amongst those considered.

I can refer to the hiring of our current county manager, which we at least discussed amongst each other in exec.

There are two other hires of which I expressed concern publicly at this very meeting.  This was when we hired our county attorney.

And I expressed concern about the process not being consistent to his predecessor were she was interviewed by the chair and commissioners, and external candidates were considered.

And that was preceded by extensive communication with the chair about her candidacy.

I have a great respect and admiration for our current county attorney.  And I spoke with him prior to the meeting.  He knew about my challenge of him being hired in this manner, of being appointed.

And despite our work and our experience together, I shared in this same room that I will no longer approve any agency director or division head in leadership in Cobb County without it going through an open hiring process.

I shared that here … on a similar evening, 7 p.m., where the public was present.  Even though ,my voice may not have resonated with those who were here at that meeting, my commitment to making sure that this county has an open hiring process has not changed.

When we hired our police chief, again, very uncomfortable conversation.  And I respect you Chief Cox.  I respect our working relationship.  And I called you before the meeting and I felt very uncomfortable in having a very difficult conversation of which all of our county leadership was present.  Because I felt we should be consistent with the hiring of our police chief.  To make sure that that process was a open process as it was for his predecessor.

His predecessor was part of an open call for applicants, and he was interviewed by a committee, interviewed by a county manager. Interviewed by people in this community who are concerned about me not appointing someone today.  But felt they had to be a part of that process.

He was interviewed by commissioners.

Now there are some counters that will say, ‘Commissioner Cupid, this process was reasonable. We discussed it in exec.’

We just discussed this in exec yesterday, after it was put in the agenda book.  After it was announced publicly, putting all of our board in a very uncomfortable position, which is unfair and disrespectful to our role that we play in vetting our candidates to make sure that we pick the very best, and that we have done it, yes, in the daylight and transparency, yes, of the public.

We received a contract a week ago of which there were still questions just yesterday.  And the spirit of the communication was basically  ‘you go and figure it out’. The day before a meeting.

That’s unreasonable, to respect the interests of our board by putting them in that kind of situation.

When I received a call from the chair about his intent to hire Dr McMorris, or to promote her, I shared with him the same thing that I’ve shared with every other executive hire.  That you are aware of my commitment to the open process, and ‘would you be putting this forward for an open process?’  And that was not his intent.”

I almost feel set up. Darned if you do and darned if you don’t. You feel like you can’t be consistent with your own principles and the things that you committed to.

But you also cannot support someone who you think is a wonderful candidate, because of your commitment to the interests of the county as a whole, beyond person.

I think this was an unfair process for the candidate, for the board, for other possible candidates and for the public.

I think it was unfair to Deputy McMorris, soon to be county manager McMorris. I felt it was unfair for her to be publicly scrutinized in the manner which she was. She has become part of unnecessary public and political fodder. 

No one reading anything of her resume can take into account the totality of experience and character that she brings to the table.  All of who she is could have been considered during the hiring process, so we could have boldly stood up for her.

I think it was unfair to the board for the reasons I have shared.

But it was unfair to us because we felt limited in our ability to exercise good stewardship to our constituency and the public purse, and for this we have been maligned and disregarded.

It’s unfair for possible candidates who have a desire to ascend into leadership in this county.  Internally we have employees who may have interests, experience, and qualifications to ascend into higher positions, many who may not have a deputy position or a position that is second in command.

In fact, whed I shared with you about another position, there was an appointment made that I felt very uncomfortable about.

And after we made the appointment I found out about someone who had been with the county for decades who was interested in being considered, who the commissioners had no clue about.

When we make decisions without opening up to our employees, and to the public, it kills their morale.  It kills morale too of other deputies who are not automatically promoted, that we’ve had a practice of doing in this county, and our police chief is an example of that.

We had other deputy chiefs that did not automatically ascend in that role. 

We also had a deputy director for community development and we knew when that person was appointed that they were going to be retiring.  So you can’t tell me here that every time you hire a deputy that we know they’re going to be promoted to director because that has not been our practice.

There are people who will argue with me and tell me that succession planning should indicate that someone automatically moves into a role.  But I tell you succession planning should foster preparation, not protectionism.

Succession planning should prepare for leadership, to ensure ongoing function of an organization.  But it should not serve to protect people from a competitive hiring process.

Succession planning, to me, gives people a leg up so when they are interviewed, they can show the unique quality they bring to the table, by having been trained for a position.

And the cream should naturally rise to the top.

However if there are circumstances where someone externally can bring something of value to the county, they should also be considered. And externally in this instance is not necessarily external to the county. But external to the deputy position or the person who was second in command.

I contend we’ve had very strong transformative leadership by people who have been internal to the county and external.

I think a healthy organization will have both.

For this particular position, there possibly could have been external candidates considered outside of Cobb County. Although there are 159 counties in Georgia, only four of them have populations over 300,000.

They would consider a larger county.  They would consider Cobb, even though they may not be here.  They may be with a larger city that’s in Georgia or even outside of the state of Georgia.

When we just make appointments like this, without properly vetting it, it kills the trajectory of other potential candidates who could have something of quality and great enough value to bring to Cobb County.

Finally I think this is unfair to the public. The public should have reasonable expectation that their leaders have reasonably vetted all potential candidates, so that we can provide reasonable stewardship of their tax dollars, and reasonable consideration of their expectations on service delivery.

It has been argued the chairman has the authority to make the appointment of the county manager per county law. And he does have that authority.  But having the authority to do something … gives you the authority to take that course of action, but it doesn’t obligate you to that course of action.

Having the authority to do something gives you the right to do something, but full implementation does not necessarily make it right.

And maybe to some, possibly to many, the action is right.

We know that Deputy County Manager McMorris has worked her way up to the position of which she is considering today. And she brings a breath of fresh air to Cobb County.  And many know and believe that it’s time for a woman to ascend into leadership in this county.

And yes, as a black woman it is pivotal to have the opportunity to lead in Cobb County.

Please understand that her appointment provides me a sense of joy, and for those who’ve longed to see themselves, our daughters in the county reflect all of the persons that live here. I know personally that Dr. McMorris has worked hard for this, and has earned her right to be considered.

Even so, such accomplishment should not take on a character of ascension that typically leaves people of diversity outside of consideration.

When we have open processes all can be considered, irrespective of gender, race or other affiliation, and they can be considered on their merits.

I have been on this board for going on eight years, and I have been in this same position in exec, where we’ve had leaders put in positions who were not properly vetted. I’ve been in meetings where there have been statements made that ‘I like this guy,’ or ‘I don’t see why we just don’t have X fill this role’.”

And as someone who tries to think as critically and open as possible, there have been times I have been filled with fear to ask questions and push us having an open process.  Because I’ve been concerned if I question anything: will this person treat me well where they’re leading in the county?  Will they be considerate of my requests as a commissioner? Will I face backlash from the board if I don’t support where the majority of the board is?

But it got to a point where I kept seeing that happen over and over again.  I finally put my foot down. And I made a committment to myself and this board, and to the public: I will be open to make sure we have an open process, so everybody can be considered.

And I’m sorry today if transparency is such manner is frowned on upon.

It’s easy for me to make a certain decision today, for us to be unanimous as a board.

It’s hard to stick with principle.  And it’s hard to stick with the things that you know make this county fair, and will make it the best it can be moving into the future.

So on principle my decision today is easy.  And my heart today still today toward Dr. McMorris is full.  But my commitment to this county and how I have led and continue to lead in such a way that opens up consideration  for everybody … I cannot affirm or approve this appointment in the manner of which it is going down today.

But Dr. McMorris, County Manager McMorris, I’ll let you know from right here you know you have my full and dearest support, whether or not you see people who want to undermine it, you have my full and dearest support.  I love you, alright?

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