After months of searching, the city of Fort Oglethorpe named a new city manager Monday night, Feb. 13, and also announced the hiring of a new chief of police.
During the city council meeting, Mayor Earl Gray announced the city's hiring of Jennifer Payne-Simpkins as new city manager, Catoosa County Sheriff's detective Mike Helton as new chief of police, and Mike Fowler as a new city building inspector.
According to City Clerk Carol Murray, Payne-Simpkins will make $80,000 per year as the new city manager, while Helton will garner $60,000 per year as the new police chief.
"I think these are three very good decisions for our city, and I'm looking forward to 2017," Gray said.
Payne-Simpkins, who currently serves as the director of fiscal and solid waste management in Gwinnett County, Ga., replaces long-time city manager Ron Goulart, who left the post last year to become judge of Catoosa County's new State Court.
Payne-Simpkins says she grew up in North Carolina and worked for the city of Savannah, Ga., before her time in Gwinnett, and that she's looking forward to beginning her new position next week.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to come serve in Fort Oglethorpe," Payne-Simpkins said. The mayor and council have a great team that are very welcoming, and I'm excited about the possibilities for the future."
Over the past 10-plus months, Gray said, he and the council spent numerous hours meeting with applicants, and interviewed 42 people for the job during the process.
Payne-Simpkins says she interviewed in early January and began getting excited about the possibility of getting back to a smaller community atmosphere.
"I interviewed earlier this year and it was pretty quick," she said. "My husband and I talked it over and it's just a huge opportunity for us. I am super excited about it. Gwinnett County has close to one million residents, so I miss the interactions with residents that you're able to have in a smaller community."
Payne-Simpkins said she and her husband, a retired police captain, travel frequently and have visited the Fort Oglethorpe area on multiple occasions.
"We just love the area," she said. "It's beautiful there. We've been to Fort Oglethorpe, Ringgold, and Chattanooga, Tenn., so when I saw the job opportunity, it made a lot of sense. I feel like it's the perfect opportunity to share experience and knowledge I've gained over the years to help make the city what the mayor council envisions."
The hiring of Mike Helton to the post of chief of police seems like a big win for the mayor and council, as Helton has years of experience as both a law enforcement officer and a municipal supervisor.
"I'm exited about this opportunity, and am looking forward to representing the city of Fort Oglethorpe. My wife and I live in Fort Oglethorpe now, so I look forward to serving right there in my own community."
Helton began his law enforcement career with stints as an East Ridge (Tenn.) Police officer and as a Catoosa County sheriff's deputy before serving as Catoosa County manager from 2007-2015.
In June 2015, Helton decided he wanted to pursue his passion for law enforcement again and stepped down from his role as county manager to become a detective for the Sheriff's Department.
Now, Helton will replace long-time chief David Eubanks, who recently retired due to health reasons.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity, and look forward to building more relationships there," Helton said. "They have a great group of men and women working there at the Police Department, so I'm excited to get to know them and look forward working with them in the future."
Both Payne-Simpkins and Helton are expected to begin their new positions before the end of the month.
After announcing the hires, mayor Gray thanked the council for its hard work in finding the right people for the job.
"This council went above and beyond with this search, and it's something we didn't take lightly," Gray said. "I also want to thank our clerk, Carol Murray, who has stepped in for us while we've searched for a new county manager."