The Chicago-born attorney began practicing in 1993, earning his degree from Vanderbilt before attending law school at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I always knew I wanted to practice in Georgia and took the Georgia Bar exam after law school,” Olson said. “I started working as an attorney in 1993 and started working with Frank Jenkins and now Judge G. Carey Nelson in 1994, back before Carey went on the bench. I have been working here in Cartersville since 1996.”
Olson worked with Nelson who served as county attorney as well as Boyd Pettit, who took over the role when Nelson took the bench. Pettit also was responsible for Olson’s role as city attorney for local municipalities, including the city of Kingston.
His work in local government work led Olson to his new role.
“It was the good fortune to work with Carey Nelson, Boyd Pettit, Commissioner Clarence Brown and Steve Bradley over the years,” he said of his career path. “I also had an active trial practice in land use, zoning and business litigation, but I found I was enjoying local government work the most.
“As Clarence and Steve decided on retirement, they suggested I might consider being county administrator for the new commissioner, whoever that might be. The more I reflected on the idea, the more I was interested. Steve Taylor approached me after the runoff on the recommendation of Clarence and Steve, and we talked and I agreed to accept the position.”
The father of two said the transition was made easier through assistance from his predecessor.
“In working so closely with Steve as an attorney over the years, I sort of had an apprenticeship in the job. But after Steve Taylor indicated he would appoint me, Steve Bradley arranged for me to spend a lot of time in budget meetings, SPLOST meetings and other transition meetings learning about matters that I had not dealt with as an attorney. He and Clarence arranged an extensive transition program for myself and Steve Taylor …,” Olson said.
As county administrator, Olson is tasked with implementing policy as set by the commissioner. He said the main goals now are economic development — jobs, aligning the budget with revenue figures and continuing to provide the same level of service to residents.
“We are trying to find efficiencies and are exploring some new ideas,” he said. “We are also very mindful that the employees have borne a lot of the pain of the economic crunch, with no raises for four years, now going into five. They have been on furloughs for just as long, which is a pay cut.
“For example, someone who has been here five years is making the same pay as someone who just joined the county in the same position. That hurts morale and we are working hard on solutions. We are optimistic that the LakePoint development and the industrial park developments can improve the situation here in the county by creating new jobs and economic activity, but we may not feel the impact for two or three years.”
And how do Olson and Taylor work together?
“We have established an excellent working relationship and friendship,” Olson said. “I was only slightly acquainted with him before from his store, but we find we work together well. My job is to tell it to him like it is, and that’s what I do.”
For the self-professed military history and aviation buff, the economy remains a concern for the county.
“As a county in general, the economy is the biggest problem right now, just as it is everywhere. Specifically for Bartow County, sales tax revenue continues to drop even though statewide it is going up. Also, the property tax digest held up for a couple of years in the early part of the recession, but now the toll of bank sales and foreclosures is really being felt,” Olson said. “Those two areas comprise about 60 percent of the general operating budget of the county, and so that decline is a great obstacle to continuing to provide the services to the citizens.”
Saying the county has too many assets to list, Olson said Bartow is poised to grow as the economy improves.
“We have a great location, extensive transportation access, wonderful natural resources and recreation opportunities, and an excellent workforce,” he said. “We draw a lot of interest from potential companies. For example, our economic development director tells us over half of Georgia’s 159 counties received no requests for information from industrial prospects last year — we received over 50. As the economy improves, more companies will pull the trigger on economic development here, helping us all.”