March 21, 2020 10:00:13 PM
A Lowndes County supervisor told The Dispatch on Saturday that some members of the board are trying to force County Administrator Ralph Billingsley out of his job.
Supervisors have set a special-call meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the county administrator's position, one that Billingsley has held since January 2008.
Supervisor Leroy Brooks, who represents District 5, said other board members had approached Billingsley on Friday with an ultimatum to either resign or be fired.
Specifically, District 2's Trip Hairston, who joined the board for his first term in January, is jockeying to oust Billingsley and hire "one of his friends," Brooks said - though Brooks would not name the potential replacement.
"Trip has identified somebody he wants to take Ralph's place," Brooks told The Dispatch. "... Anything they say contrary to this is not the truth."
Brooks, for his part, said he does not support the move, especially while the county is dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"Ralph is a steady hand, and it's not a smart decision to replace him right now," he said. "This is the worst challenge in the history of this county, and to bring anyone new in right now would greatly disrupt county operations."
Further, Brooks said he is disappointed in Hairston engaging in "clandestine" political maneuvering after "having only been on the board three months." He said two other supervisors who supported the move thought Billingsley had "disrespected" a board member. Though he didn't name the other two supervisors purportedly pushing the change, he did say District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith is not among them. Board president Harry Sanders and District 3's John Holliman are the remaining two members of the five-member board, and Sanders signed the document calling Wednesday's special meeting.
"I don't like these clandestine politics, especially at this serious time," Brooks said. "The way they are handling this is going to be bad for the functions of the board and the entire county."
Hairston, speaking to The Dispatch, would not comment on the details of what supervisors will discuss Wednesday, noting it is a personnel matter, nor would he answer Brooks' claim he is trying to push through a handpicked replacement for Billingsley.
"I have an awful lot of respect for Supervisor Brooks, especially with the amount of time (36 years) he has served on the board of supervisors," Hairston said. "I just choose not to get in a public back-and-forth with him."
Sanders, when contacted by The Dispatch, was more blunt.
"Whatever Leroy wants to say, let him say it," Sanders said. "Leroy is trying to disrupt things. He was very aware of what was going on, and now he's raising hell."
But Sanders also would not comment on the record on the nature of Wednesday's agenda item or whether Billingsley has been given an ultimatum.
Billingsley, 66, already is eligible to retire. His salary is $125,000, which includes a $5,000 raise supervisors granted him in January.
Holliman told The Dispatch that Wednesday's discussion will be in executive session and hinted it would relate, on some level, to Billingsley's departure.
"He's been talking about retiring, so I figure that's what we'll discuss," Holliman said. "We've got people who can step up if need be (in Billingsley's stead), but we're still trying to work something out."
Billingsley, when reached by The Dispatch, did not comment on the record. Smith did not return a call or text message seeking comment.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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