Originally created 03/25/01

Official readies for job



The city's new administrator, George Kolb, learned Friday morning about the Augusta fire chief's decision to quit after only three months on the job.

Mr. Kolb's reaction after reading about the resignation in an online news account: "I wish he had waited until I got there."

The response was to be expected from someone consistently described as a loyal boss and team player. He is characterized by former colleagues as gregarious and well liked, and friends call him strong willed and stubborn.

Born and reared in Detroit, Mr. Kolb said he had sworn he would never leave the only state he'd ever known. He attended Eastern Michigan University for his undergraduate degree in business and received his master's degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.

The first two decades of his career were spent working for three midsize Michigan cities.

For the past nine years, Richmond, Va., has been Mr. Kolb's home, and visiting relatives and old friends has required an 11-hour drive cross-country, a trip he makes once or twice a year.

Starting May 1, Mr. Kolb will have to tack another few hours on to his long car ride after he officially makes Augusta his new home.

"It's exciting," Mr. Kolb said Friday in a telephone interview from Richmond. "Everywhere you go, there's an opportunity to make friends and close relationships, and I'm looking forward to doing that in Augusta."

In addition to filling a five-month-vacant position, Mr. Kolb's hiring as only the second administrator of a newly consolidated government also marks the first time in the history of the city or the county that the job has been held by a minority.

It's not the first time he's been in that position: He also was the first black city manager of Albion, Mich., a city of about 11,000 where he worked from 1981-88.

Albion City Attorney Charles Robison said that despite the race barrier he broke, Mr. Kolb was always colorblind.

"I can remember George getting cross-examined by some (black) council members one time, and he was asked: If a black person was qualified for a job, would he hire him over a more qualified white person," Mr. Robison said. "George said, `No, I hire the best I can, irrespective of skin.'

"I don't necessarily think (some council members) were all that happy about it, but George believed it. And I would suspect he still has the same philosophy: He's going to be surrounded by the best he can."

MR. KOLB WAS introduced into local government management through a program designed to recruit minorities to the profession. But he said changes in attitudes since his career began 30 years ago have made race largely a non-issue for him.

"I don't see a real difference," Mr. Kolb said. "There is a perceived glass ceiling, but if you work hard and stick at it, I've found you can get there."

At the same time Augusta officials were studying Mr. Kolb to decide if he was the best man for the job, Mr. Kolb was studying Augusta to make sure it was the best place for him.

"There were a lot of things that made me look twice," he said, including a special grand jury investigation into government operations, about which he said he has "mixed emotions."

"On the one hand, the ultimate evaluator on the performance of government are the electors - that's when the city commission and the mayor get their performance evaluations: at the ballot box," he said. "On the other hand, I understand that grand juries are unique, and that they also are the public's watchdog to try to ensure that what the citizens are getting is what they're supposed to be getting."

But of more concern, he said, was the structure of Augusta's government and the lack of power given to the administrator. In Augusta, politicians have the final say when hiring and firing city department heads, a setup that creates more challenges for an administrator, he said.

"There are positives and negatives there, but the pure council-manager form of management gives that responsibility to the city manager," Mr. Kolb said. He said he thinks changing Augusta's government to a strong administrator form of management would require widespread support from the city.

"That is a community decision on how things are governed," he said. "I think that we'll be able to work to be sure we communicate with the commission to make sure it doesn't become a problem, but that will test a manager's skills."

WHEN MR. KOLB arrives in Augusta on May 1, he will leave behind many friends, but not another job. He has been unemployed for nearly two months, having been forced to resign by the current city manager of Richmond.

City employees and Mr. Kolb have characterized the resignation as the result of efforts to "clean house" in the city manager's office and dispose of employees associated with the former administration.

"I was a candidate for the city manager's office, and I'm not sure the city manager was very comfortable with that," Mr. Kolb said. "Plus, our management styles were different."

Mr. Kolb said he expects the first year in Augusta to be spent familiarizing himself with the city's employees, Augusta commissioners and the mayor.

Although he said he has no plans to clean house as his former boss in Richmond did, he does have several former colleagues he would consider asking to come to Augusta if there were an opportunity to expand the staff.

Ideally, Mr. Kolb said, a city should have three deputies working for an administrator: one who handles policy issues, one who deals with operational issues and one who addresses economic development.

"That frees up the administrator to work with the commission and the community without getting too bogged down," he said.

Mr. Kolb's past work and his expertise in administration and utilities have won him praise from many former colleagues, including his former boss and role model Robert Bobb, the city manager of Oakland, Calif.

"George Kolb is a good worker and a team player, and he has worked in some tough environments," Mr. Bobb said. "He's a solid public administrator who understands personnel, and he is a very strong manager."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.

Name: George Kolb

Age: 52

Hobbies: Golf. "I'm probably more of a hacker. I like the game because it relaxes me, and it gets me away from everyday stress."

Family: Wife, Sandra; three grown children

Born and reared: Detroit

Education: Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, bachelor of business administration in marketing; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, master of public administration in urban administration; Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Boston, graduate of the Senior Executives in State and Local Government

Experience: Deputy city manager and director of public utilities in Richmond, Va., from 1992 to January 2001; assistant to city manager, Saginaw, Mich., 1989-1992; city manager, Albion, Mich., 1981-1988; assistant to city manager, Jackson, Mich., 1971-1981

Memberships: International City/County Management Association; Virginia Local Government Managers Association; National Forum of Black Public Administrators (on the board of directors)

Motto: "Life is too short not to make the best of it."

"There is a perceived glass ceiling, but if you work hard and stick at it, I've found you can get there."- George Kolb, Augusta's new administrator