Jim Harner named Cobb’s new Chief Human Resources Officer

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

At last Tuesday’s meeting of the the Cobb County Board of Commissioners Jim Harner was approved as the county’s new Chief Human Resources Officer.  He takes over the department at a time when county government faces critical staffing shortages.

County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris introduced the agenda item.

“It is a great pleasure that I introduce to you and ask that you accept the recommendation of the appointment of Mr. Jim Harner to be the county’s Chief Human Resources Officer,” McMorris said. “Mr. Harner has extensive HR leadership experience, including that of the private sector, health care industry and local government.”

“He has 25 years of HR experience and employee relations policy and procedure development, compensation and benefits, recruitment and retention, training and development, and he will no doubt be an asset to Cobb County government.”

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Cobb BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid made a motion to accept the recommendation and appoint Harner as the new HR director. The motion passed 5-0.

After the vote, Harner thanked the BOC, and said that working for Cobb felt like a homecoming, as he and his wife have lived in Cobb County for 25 years.

Cobb County’s staff shortages

Harner will be taking over at a challenging times for Human Resources in county governement.

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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