Jim Harner expected to be named new Cobb County HR Director against backdrop of critical staffing shortages

Jim HarnerJim Harner (photo from the Cobb County website -- public domain)

At its meeting this evening the Cobb County Board of Commissioners is expected to name Jim Harner as the county’s new Chief Human Resources Officer.  He’ll be taking over during a period when there are critical staffing shortages in several key Cobb County departments.

Harner’s most recent position was with the city of Roswell, where according to his LinkedIn page he has been the Director of Human Resources since December of 2014. Before that he served as Director of Operations and HR — Chief Compliance Officer, for the Cobb County Community Services Board for over 10 years.

According to the county’s news release announcing the hire:

Harner has extensive HR leadership experience in the private sector, healthcare industry, and local municipal government.  Dr. McMorris said Harner’s background provides a firm foundation to lead Cobb County’s Human Resources department. His 25+ years of experience includes, but is not limited to, employee relations, policy and procedure development, compensation and benefits, recruitment, training, and development. Mr. Harner is also certified as a Professional in Human Resources by SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management).

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Harner earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Louisiana State University, and his MBA from Kennesaw State University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude.

In a letter to BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid included in the agenda packet for tonight’s BOC meeting, Cobb County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris wrote:

I would like to recommend to you the appointment of Jim Harner as Chief Human Resources Officer.

Mr. Harner holds a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master’s in business administration and has a certification from the Society of Human Resource Management. His career experience has included leadership positions in the private sector and healthcare.

He most recently served as the director of the Human Resources department for the City of Roswell for the last seven years and has a strong history in employee relations, police and procedure development, compensation and benefits, recruitment, and training and development.

The feedback from the initial interview committee and my own conversations with Mr. Harner adds to my personal view that an official appointment is warranted.

Therefore, I recommend that Jim Harner be appointed as Chief Human Resources Officer effective July 25, 2022.

Cobb County’s staff shortages

The following is an excerpt from an earlier Courier article on the county’s staffing crisis, and includes a reprint of the county’s statement on the issue.

Several Cobb County departments are facing critical staffing shortages, according to a public information release distributed by Cobb County Communications Director Ross Cavitt.

The public information release had a link to an article on the Cobb website describing the situation and outlining the requests department directors presented to the county, which we’ve reprinted below:

Saying vacancies in key positions have risen to a “critical level,” Cobb’s DOT Director will ask the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to authorize the use of outside firms to handle some routine road maintenance operations. In addition, three agency directors will ask the board to approve a retention incentive to slow the departure of Cobb County government workers who are responsible for maintaining and operating critical public infrastructure.

In an agenda item for the upcoming BOC meeting, Cobb DOT Director Drew Raessler says that 41 of his 94 field staff positions are vacant, leading to delays in responding to routine and emergency work orders – everything from mowing right-of-way to filling potholes. Raessler says contracting services “would provide the assistance needed to ensure the sustainability of project implementation and routine daily operations” until DOT can fill the open positions.  

Another agenda item shows that staffing issues are not limited to DOT. The directors of the Water System and PARKS joined the DOT Director in asking the board to approve a retention incentive program.  This would provide a $1,500 bonus for those field workers “responsible for maintaining and operating critical public infrastructure.”

Another agenda item shows that staffing issues are not limited to DOT. The directors of the Water System and PARKS joined the DOT Director to ask the board to approve a retention incentive program.  This would provide a $1,500 bonus for those field workers “responsible for maintaining and operating critical public infrastructure.”

Among agencies that contain critical staff, vacancy rates are reported as:

  • 40% in the Department of Transportation
  • 32% in the Property Management Department
  • 31% in the Water System
  • 30% in the Fleet Management Department
  • 27% in the PARKS Department

According to the agenda item, “the volume of vacancies has strained the respective agencies’ abilities to maintain and operate critical infrastructure which is vital for the residents and visitors of Cobb County.”

An HR review of the county government’s salary structure last year found the county’s pay on average was more than eight percent below contemporary government agencies. And a pay study presented to the board earlier this year found the majority of the county workforce made considerably less money than workers at similar employers.

The retention incentive would be available to frontline field staff members that began employment with Cobb County prior to April 1, 2022, and employees must stay with the county for 12 months after receipt of the retention incentive. The agenda item asks the BOC to pay for the incentives through the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation. The Board of Commissioners will consider these agenda items during its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 14 at 9 a.m.

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