He left Forsyth under a cloud
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
by Diane R. Stepp
March 13, 2003
The man who apparently will lead Cherokee growth and development moves next door from Forsyth County under the shadow of a past mistake.
Jeffrey Watkins, Forsyth County's former planning director, was picked to fill the post left vacant by Louis Zunguze. Zunguze was fired in August over an alleged conflict of interest with a developer. Pending commission approval, Watkins, 37, will become county planning and zoning director this month, officials said Tuesday.
Cherokee officials held an introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon, in part to publicly air circumstances surrounding Watkins' departure from his old job. County officials say they are willing to overlook it to gain an experienced planning director who is otherwise highly recommended.
Watkins resigned last month when he was told he would be fired for running a consulting business out of the county offices, said Forsyth County administrator Stevie Mills.
In the nine years Watkins worked for Forsyth, first as a senior planner and as planning director, "he did a great job," said Mills. "He made a mistake and it was a pretty bad one. He was honest about it and admitted it was a mistake," said Mills.Mills said Watkins and a mapping manager whom Watkins supervised had formed a private consulting company "and were running it out of our offices.
"It was not a wise decision. It violated county policy, and we had no choice but to ask for his resignation," said Mills. The mapping manager also lost his job, he said.
"Commissioners admired his expertise and abilities and they hated to see what happened happen," said Mills.
Watkins said he does not plan to continue his consulting activities in Cherokee. Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper confirmed that would be the case.
"I've made it clear that on our staff we work totally for county taxpayers," Cooper said.
He said Watkins brings "tremendous skills" to the job and that he feels "very comfortable" in recommending him to the commissioners.
Cherokee commissioners must act on Watkins' appointment by March 21.
Photo: Planning director-designate Jeff Watkins visits the county Justice Center with son Paul. / Frank Niemeir/Staff