After a lengthy search process, the Columbus City Council hired a chief operating officer. Jammie Garrett was hired after a sometimes spirited nearly two-hour Friday morning meeting that was almost entirely in executive session.
Garrett’s name first surfaced Tuesday, when Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, apparently tired of waiting for the process to play out, introduced a motion to hire him. This discussion fed into the executive session, where it was decided to bring her in for an interview with the full board on Friday morning.
The council questioned her for about an hour, then deliberated for about an hour before announcing that they had decided to make an offer. She accepted shortly after.
Garrett will replace David Armstrong, who retired in June 2021. The position has been filled on an interim basis by businessman Mark Alexander, Jr.
She will be paid $100,000 a year. Garrett, who currently resides in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, is expected to start working 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 JD from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2012, and will complete his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Belhaven in August 2022.
She currently works as a Training Support Specialist at the Mississippi Supreme Court, where she trains judges, attorneys, clerks and administrators, and court officers. She previously worked at the Mississippi School of the Arts, where she did accounting, managed budgets, did human resources work, and reviewed documents/contracts. She also worked as an assistant teacher at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Holmes Community College.
Dispatch could not reach Garrett for comment before press time.
Garrett was one of more than 100 candidates for the positions of chief financial officer, chief operating officer and chief information officer. A hiring committee consisting of Mayor Keith Gaskin, Director of Human Resources Pat Mitchell, Ward 1 Councilor Ethel Taylor Stewart, Ward 3 Councilor Rusty Greene, Ward 4 Councilor Pierre Beard and Ward Councilor 6 Jacqueline DiCicco combed through the nominations and interviewed Garrett before she was brought before the full board.
After agreeing to hire him, the board also agreed to republish the chief financial officer position, which has been vacant since former chief financial officer Deliah Vaughn resigned to take a position with the City of West Point. This position will be increased up to $100,000 from his previous pay rate of approximately $79,000. Both positions will be equal and will report directly to the mayor.
The committee had a candidate they were very interested in for the position of CFO and were in the process of drafting a job description that would hybridize the roles of CFO and COO. This candidate has removed his name from the review.
The motion to hire Garrett and re-advertise the CFO position passed 4-0, on a motion from Ward 3 Councilor Rusty Greene and a second from Ward 4 Councilor Pierre Beard. DiCicco had left the meeting after about an hour, and Gaskin backed out of the CFO discussion. In his absence, Mickens, who is vice-mayor, chaired the meeting and was therefore unable to vote.
Gaskin said he was happy with the decision.
“I’m very pleased with the hire we made today, and I’m very pleased that we will be reopening the CFO position (at a higher rate of pay),” he said.
Although Garrett lacks managerial experience, Gaskin said he and the board felt her level of education and interview performance showed she was up to the task.
“She has great communication skills and great ideas to help move the city forward,” Gaskin said. “Although she has never managed a city of this size before, she is confident that she is up to the task, and I am very comfortable with her in this role.”
Board members contacted by The Dispatch all said they thought Garrett would be a perfect fit for the job despite his lack of administrative experience.
“I listened to the committee members, and everyone thought she was capable,” Mickens said. “His credentials were impressive. Does she have a ton of experience? No. But sometimes, who does? »
Mickens said he was particularly impressed with his law degree.
“She’s one step away from being a lawyer,” he said. “It’s almost a re-reading of David Armstrong. We never thought we would find someone with these qualifications again.
Armstrong was a lawyer, as well as a former mayor of Natchez.
“She’s young and energetic, and can grow with the job,” Mickens said.
The reorganization of the two positions was the board’s effort to find a compromise with Gaskin, who repeatedly argued that they needed to be redesigned.
“(Gaskin) was adamant about it, and we had to meet him halfway,” Mickens said. “…We talked about it and came to a good conclusion.”
“I’m relieved,” Greene said after the meeting. “It took too long, but I’m glad we have someone in place and we can move on.”
Greene said the more he saw Garrett, the more he liked him.
“She’s very poised and very smart,” 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 all six of us were very impressed. She will be an asset.
“She did well, and I think she deserves a fair chance,” Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones said. “She had very good communication skills, and I think she will be a good leader and bridge the gap between mayor and council.”
Gaskin said he thinks the city can afford to raise both positions up to $100,000.
“We have saved a lot of money over the past six months in these positions by working with volunteers,” he said.
The city could find new revenue in the future, he said, by reviewing positions that would not need to be filled after employees retire and reallocating those tasks.
“There are many ways to balance the budget,” Gaskin said.
Greene echoed the mayor, noting that the savings from those two positions could be applied to the new short-term pay rates.
“We’ll just have to make tough decisions in the budget after that,” he said. “We’re going to have to get on it.”
Mickens said he believed there was already enough money in the budget to make it work. He explained that the COO position was budgeted at $120,000 and the unused $20,000 could be transferred to the CFO position to fill the void.
“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 before press time.
Mickens said he’s optimistic the city is heading in the right direction.
“I think it will relieve some of the tension for everyone,” he said.
Editor Zack Plair contributed to this report.