After a long search process, Columbus City Council has hired a chief operating officer. Jammie Garrett was hired after a sometimes-heated, nearly two-hour meeting Friday morning that was almost entirely in executive session.
Garrett’s name first came up Tuesday, when Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, apparently tired of waiting for the process to play out, made a motion to hire her. That discussion was pulled into executive session, where it was decided to bring her in for an interview with the full council Friday morning.
The council interviewed her for about an hour, and then deliberated for about another hour before announcing they had decided to make an offer. She accepted soon afterward.
She will be paid $100,000 per year. Garrett, who currently resides in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, is scheduled to start work for the city in early March, according to Mayor Keith Gaskin.
Garrett earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Southern Mississippi in July 2009, a Juris Doctor from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La., in 2012 and will complete her master’s in public administration from Belhaven University in August 2022.
She currently works as a training support specialist at the Mississippi Supreme Court, where she trains judges, attorneys, court clerks and administrators and law clerks. She previously worked at the Mississippi School of the Arts, where she handled accounting, managed budgets, did human resources work and document/contract review. She also worked as an adjunct instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Holmes Community College.
The Dispatch was unable to reach Garrett for comment before press time.
Garrett was one of over 100 applicants for the CFO, COO and information technology director positions. A hiring committee of Mayor Keith Gaskin, Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell, Ward 1 Councilwoman Ethel Taylor Stewart, Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene, Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard and Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacqueline DiCicco combed through the applications and interviewed Garrett before she was brought before the whole council.
After agreeing to hire her, the council also agreed to re-advertise for the chief financial officer position, which has been vacant since former CFO Deliah Vaughn resigned to take a job with the City of West Point. That position will be raised up to $100,000 from its previous rate of pay of about $79,000. Both positions will be co-equal and will report directly to the mayor.
The committee had a candidate it was very interested in for CFO, and was in the process of writing a job description that would hybridize the CFO and COO roles. That candidate withdrew their name from consideration.
The motion to hire Garrett and to re-advertise the CFO position passed 4-0, on a motion by Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene and a second from Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard. DiCicco had left the meeting after about an hour, and Gaskin recused himself from the CFO discussion. In his absence, Mickens, who is vice-mayor, presided over the meeting and so was not able to vote.
Gaskin said that he was pleased with the decision.
“I am very delighted in the hire we made today, and I’m very happy we’re going to open the CFO position back up (at a higher pay rate),” he said.
Although Garrett lacks management experience, Gaskin said he and the council felt that her level of education and interview performance showed she was equal to the task.
“She has very strong communication skills and great ideas to help move the city forward,” Gaskin said. “Though she’s never managed a city this size before, she is confident she is up to the task, and I’m very comfortable with her in this role.”
The council members contacted by The Dispatch all said they thought Garrett would be a good fit for the job in spite of her lack of administrative experience.
“I listened to the committee members, and all of them thought she was capable,” Mickens said. “Her credentials were impressive. Does she have a ton of experience? No. But sometimes, who does?”
Mickens said he was particularly impressed with her law degree.
“She is one step away from being a lawyer,” he said. “It’s almost a replay of David Armstrong. We never thought we’d get someone with those qualifications again.”
Armstrong was an attorney, as well as a former mayor of Natchez.
“She is young and energetic, and can grow with the position,” Mickens said.
The reorganizing of the two positions was the council’s effort to compromise with Gaskin, who has repeatedly argued that they needed to be rethought.
“(Gaskin) was adamant about that, and we had to meet him halfway,” Mickens said. “…We talked it out and came to a good conclusion.”
“I’m relieved,” Greene said after the meeting. “It took too much time, but I’m glad we have somebody in place and we can move forward.”
Greene said the more he saw of Garrett, the more he liked her.
“She is very poised and very intelligent,” he said. “She has the right demeanor for the job. She didn’t have the experience I would have liked, but her work ethic was impressive and we all six were very impressed. She’s going to be an asset.”
“She did well, and I think she deserves a fair chance,” Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones said. “She had really good communication skills, and I think she’ll be a good leader and will bridge the gap between the mayor and the council.”
Gaskin said that he thought the city could afford bumping both posts up to $100,000.
“We’ve been saving a lot of money the last six months in those positions working with volunteers,” he said.
The city could find new revenue in the future, he said, by looking at positions that wouldn’t need to be refilled after employees retired and by reassigning those duties.
“There are a lot of ways to balance the budget,” Gaskin said.
Greene echoed the mayor, noting that savings from those two positions could be put toward the new pay rates in the short term.
“We’ll just have to make some tough decisions in the budget after that,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure it out.”
Mickens said he thought there was already enough money in the budget to make it work. He explained that the COO position had been budgeted at $120,000, and the unused $20,000 could be moved over to the CFO position to fill the gap.
“The money is in the budget, and we can definitely make it work going forward,” Jones said.
Stewart, Beard and DiCicco did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Mickens said he was optimistic the city was headed in the right direction.
“I think this will relieve some of the tension off of everybody,” he said.
Managing editor Zack Plair contributed to this report.