Athens County Planner Resigns, Commissioners Consider Restructuring The Job

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Athens County’s planner has resigned and the search for a replacement is awaiting a decision by the county commissioners on whether they want to take back control of the planner’s office.

Emily Carnahan, who became county planner in July, has taken a job as a community development specialist in Northern Kentucky. Her last day in the Athens County job is Dec. 30. She originally came to the Athens County planner’s position from an internship with a development district in Northern Kentucky.

Carnahan is actually an employee of the Athens Soil and Water Conservation District, which hired her. Prior to 2012, Athens County had its own planning office. Due to budget problems in 2011, the county commissioners cut funding to the office, which resulted in the positions of the county planner and office assistant becoming part-time. Then in July of 2011, county planner Bob Eichenberg left the post to take a job at Ohio University. At that point the commissioners began exploring their options for planning services, and began discussions with the Athens Soil and Water Conservation District.

The county pays the district $85,000 annually for planning services.

District Manager Cathy Bobo met with the commissioners Thursday to discuss the status of next year’s contract, acknowledging that she is aware there has been some discussion in the commissioners’ office about taking back the planner’s office.
“We’d definitely like to keep it in our office,” Bobo said. “I think that it has been a good fit for us and the county.”

Bobo also pointed out that the state provides a match for the district’s local funding, and that having the planner’s office has generated roughly $200,000 in additional state funding over the past three years.

She said if the commissioners remove the planner’s office, the district will have to re-examine its 2015 budget. “I think the bottom line is that we want what’s best for the people of the county,” Bobo said.

Commissioner Charlie Adkins said he’s willing to consider both options — either keeping the planner’s office with the district, or taking it back. However, Adkins said that if it stays with the district he wants more say in who is hired as planner.
Adkins also said he wants more information on the workload of the planner. “There are some things that we want to do that this person could pick up,” he said.

Commissioner Lenny Eliason said that as the commissioners prepare the 2015 budget they can determine if money is available for the county to take back the planner’s office. He told Bobo that next week they should have a better idea of the budget situation.
After the meeting, Eliason said he favors keeping the planner’s office with the district, calling it the best use of county resources. He said it would cost more than $85,000 for the commissioners to set up their own planner’s office, although he did not give an estimate of that cost.

Eliason said he believes a second person would need to be hired as an administrative assistant for the planner.
Carnahan commented during the meeting that she receives a lot of administrative support from the district.

The Messenger asked Commissioner Chris Chmiel if he favors the commissioners taking back the planner’s office.
“I’m not really making any comment until I look at all the options we’ve got,” Chmiel said.

However, Chmiel said he would only support the district keeping the planner if the county’s agreement with the district is amended so the commissioners hire the planner.

After Carnahan was hired, Chmiel — who had been on the interview committee — was critical of the district’s decision, saying he thought someone local should have been hired.
“My biggest concern is longevity of our planner,” Chmiel said at the time. “We’re just going to be a springboard to another job, and that’s not in the best interests of the county.”