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Tillman, new public safety chief, to be county’s interim EMA lead
Search for permanent EMA director still underway as county splits roles long held by Ted Wynn
In this file photo, Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Director Ted Wynn hosts a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center to coordinate efforts to deal with the local tropical storm effects of Hurricane Idalia on June 29, 2023. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

A special meeting of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners has been called for noon Tuesday, Jan. 30, for the commissioners to vote on appointing Randy Tillman, already hired as the county’s permanent, new public safety director, to be interim Emergency Management Agency director.

The county staff is conducting a search for someone else to be the county’s EMA director longer-term, and applications are still being accepted. County Manager Tom Couch said he hopes to have received enough qualified applicants by mid-February and to hire someone so that Tillman can remain in the interim, dual role less than 90 days.

“We talked to a Georgia Emergency Management Agency rep, and we thought the best thing to do was just to have Mr. Tillman fill in until we can conclude our recruitment process, which we started two to three weeks ago, earlier in the month, and we have received a number of applications,” Couch said Friday.


Wynn did both

Ted Wynn, who is retiring at the end of the day Jan. 31, served both as Bulloch County EMA director and the county’s public safety director for 32 years. When Wynn’s retirement was announced in December, Couch also reported that he had appointed Tillman, who for the past five years was warden of Bulloch County Correctional Institution, as the new public safety chief. But as Couch noted at the time, EMA director is a state-mandated position, and hiring someone to fill it requires a vote of the county’s elected governing board.

Couch also announced plans then to separate the EMA director and public safety director jobs, to be held by two different people.

“In consultation with Mr. Wynn, we think we’re at a point or precipice where we need to have a full-time and robust effort in EMA,” Couch said in December. “Ted has really worn the EMA hat along with his public safety director tag, but we think given the size of our community, you know, the growth in the community, Hyundai (Motor Group Meta Plant America) growth, natural and manmade threats, we need to get our game up.”

In a Jan. 25 interview, Wynn confirmed that he supported this decision and also that he has been apprised of the efforts underway to recruit a new, permanent EMA director.

“I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Couch said,” Wynn said. “With the industrial growth in the community and the population growth in the community, it makes sense to have someone who has got 100 percent of their time to devote to emergency management functions and just be sure that the county is laser-focused on those activities necessary to keep county government and all the municipalities in compliance with emergency management requirements.”

Part of the EMA director’s responsibility is to file annual reports and update plans as required by GEMA and its federal counterpart, FEMA, in addition to responding to actual local emergencies and declared disasters.

“We meet all the requirements that the state and federal governments require right now, but I think with the growth in the community it makes sense to grow that program to be a little more robust,” Wynn said.


Hurricanes and COVID

His last few years serving as EMA director while also heading the county Public Safety Division coincided with an increased frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms impacting Georgia. As EMA director, Wynn also coordinated the response to the COVID-19 pandemic for Bulloch County, Statesboro, Brooklet, Portal and Register, and took the lead in publicly reporting the numbers of local cases and deaths almost daily for a year and a half.

“If you look back, since Hurricane Matthew (October 2016), we’ve had a number of presidential declarations that required me to work a lot in those activities, and I think it makes perfect sense to separate those positions,” Wynn added, “and Mr. Tillman can devote his full time and attention to the other public safety departments, including the prison that will remain under him, which require a lot of leadership.”


Shift of BCCI

Couch and the county staff have redefined the Public Safety Division director job somewhat by adding BCCI, the county-owned prison that houses state inmates under contract, to the agencies that will report to Tillman. When the county hired him five years ago last August as warden of BCCI, Tillman already had about 35 years experience working with correctional facilities, including more than three years as the Georgia Department of Corrections director of prisons, overseeing prison operations throughout the state.

Randy Tillman
Randy Tillman

Previously, for the last many years, the BCCI warden had reported directly to the county manager, although BCCI had once been part of Wynn’s purview.

Robert Toole, hired a few months ago as BCCI deputy warden after also retiring from a staff position at the Georgia Department of Corrections, has now been promoted to BCCI warden, Couch confirmed. So, although both have new job titles as of next week, Toole will continue to report to Tillman.

Also reporting to him as public safety director will be the chiefs of the other agencies that reported to Wynn as public safety director: the Bulloch County Fire Department, Emergency Medical Service, Animal Services, the 911 Center, and the Bulloch County Probation.

The EMA director, when a new one is hired, will also report to the public safety director, who in turn reports to the county manager.


Reason for interim

But for now, if the commissioners approve Tuesday, Tillman will serve as the interim EMA director.

“We feel secure in putting Mr. Tillman in, and that will maintain any continuity that we need to be eligible for federal and state funding, in case a later winter storm happens or something where we would need state or federal assistance,” Couch said.

He said he understood from the county’s human resources a few days ago that 14 applications for the permanent position had been received, of which maybe four or five meet basic qualifications.
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