Crace settles into Lee administrator position

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Al Crace's approach to his position as Lee County's interim county administrator is a pragmatic one: Keep the wheels of government turning and take care of the issues that can't be put off for another day and another administration.

"Government is an animal a lot like the newspaper business: It has to be fed every day, and you get no credit for what you fed it last week," Crace, who has been in the office vacated by Alan Ours a month now, said. "That's what being an administrator is about. The business of a government is an ongoing business; it doesn't stop.

"There are things that need to be accomplished in the time that I'm here. That's what I intend to do. I figure if you can, it's better to skin a cat now than to leave it lying around. If you do that, it tends to smell bad."

While it's easy to pass off Crace's down-home witticisms as quaint, there's an all-business side to the man that would-be detractors underestimate at their peril. This is not, after all, Crace's first rodeo.

"There won't be time for a new administration to put together a SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) agenda package, so we need to keep moving on that," Crace said. "This office is responsible for fact-finding, and that's one of our primary concerns at this time. The T-SPLOST (a possible state transportation tax option) is also coming, so we can't wait to do our homework there.

"This is also the grant cycle, and if we're not on top of that, we could lose out on potential grant money for an entire year. These are not things we can wait around for someone else to do."

Crace came to Lee County highly recommended, having spent more than 30 years in government management in Sandy Springs, Athens, Gainesville, Rome, Waycross and Alma. He was one of three finalists for the Glynn County administrator job that enticed Ours away from Lee County.

Lee Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said Crace has made an immediate impression in his short time on the job.

"Mr. Crace has taken a keen interest in familiarizing himself with every aspect of our operation," Duffy said. "He's made a concerted effort to visit all of our department heads at their offices to get a first-hand look at our day-to-day operations. And he's ridden the (five) districts in the county with the commissioner from each district to get a better understanding of the concerns specific to each district.

"He's taking this job seriously, and about the best thing I can say about the job he's doing is he's taking over in that position where Alan (Ours) left off. He's a team player who communicates well."

While Crace said he's focusing intently on "a number of little issues" that are a part of the day-to-day business of government, there are a number of larger concerns that are drawing his attention as well.

The ongoing conflict over the value engineering and redesign of a library/conference center whose construction was pushed back due to contractor overbids, a brewing discontent with county solid waste disposal company Veolia, renewed efforts to enforce an ordinance that requires home address numbers to be properly located for quicker public safety personnel response, and the delayed opening of a new fire/EMS station in Smithville are currently among the issues Crace and county leaders are attacking.

One item that Crace has been able to check off the to-do list he inherited is the commission passage on Sept. 28 of a 15-months-in-the-making sign ordinance.

Not that everyone's happy to see that particular bit of legislation in place. Local Libertarian Party official Tim Nelson said Crace talked out of both sides of his mouth in the final days before the ordinance's passage.

"I voiced my concerns about the ordinance, and he put me off by saying he didn't know enough about it," Nelson said. "Three days later he recommended passing it. He's been here long enough now he should know what's going on. Especially since he's the person making the (commission's) agenda.

"I'd like to see more involvement. We're paying this guy $100,000 a year, and he's not earning that paycheck."

Crace gently brushes off Nelson's criticism.

"It's been my experience that all communities have their fair share of all different types," he said. "Most want an opportunity to be heard, and Mr. Nelson was given that opportunity. Some people get frustrated when things don't go the way they think they should.

"I've been doing this long enough -- I'm seasoned enough -- to know you can't just attack every issue without thinking about them first. Everything doesn't require hammer and nails."