Thanks for letting me serve you

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2008

As I serve my last days as chairman of the Covington County Commission, I’d like to express my appreciation for the privilege of serving the people of Covington County.

Over the past 13 ½ years, the Commission has taken significant action to improve things in our county, although during an election cycle, you begin to wonder whether you’ve done anything right, because there is a tendency for challengers to run against all the “bad stuff” going on.

But, as I have taken a few moments to assess my time of service, I really feel proud of the accomplishments that I’ve gotten to share in.

Our county overcame the implementation of NAFTA approximately 10 years ago, (when we lost some 4,000 jobs, and saw unemployment at over 9 percent) by combining our efforts countywide to address economic development. Consequently, we have recently seen unemployment below 5 percent, and I can point to more than 1,000 new jobs directly related to the joint efforts of our city and county governments working together — primarily through the Covington County Economic Development Commission. Of course, other jobs have been created without the help of government, as large and small business owners have continued to grow jobs for us.

I remember former University of Alabama President David Matthews — speaking at a state-wide meeting — referring to the cooperative spirit he witnessed in Covington County’s economic development.

The commission has constructed new facilities to better serve our citizens — 18,000 sq. ft. in the county administration building, and the 12,000 sq. ft. USDA/Auburn Extension Service building. We completed what is referred to as “the new jail” (started under a prior administration) and we added over 35 percent capacity at the jail recently. We’ve renovated three shop buildings, built the Covington Center Arena with the support of almost $2 million in private and public grants and contributions, and we’ve provided seven or eight athletic fields at our county schools.

Additionally, we’ve joined the schools to better provide for our students — stretching tax dollars — by doing site prep for several buildings. And, we joined with our education officials to help pass the statewide “10-mill Bill” three or four years ago, which corrected a major funding problem for our local schools. And, to buy time until that bill could be passed, the commission took the hard step of imposing a one-cent sales tax for education for an 18-month period. This was a hard step for someone opposed to more taxes, but I was convinced (and still am) that it was necessary, and the right thing to do. I was also pleased to be part of the commission that “did what it said it would do” by removing the tax.

During all of this, we’ve continued to work with shrinking buying power to maintain our roads and bridges and meet the other needs of the county’s citizens. Some departments have increased in size out of necessity — the sheriff’s department and jail have more than doubled in 13 years because of their workload. But, the transportation department has the same two office personnel it had 13 years ago. And, the commission office has one less employee than we had 13 years ago.

Most importantly, I appreciate the friendships I’ve made during my time of service. Our county government has little turnover — so I’ve had the privilege of working with many of the folks here for more than 13 years. During that time, we’ve developed friendships that I treasure.

I’d like to say a special thanks to the employees in the commission office that I interact with daily — they’ve always been respectful, and supportive, and I feel they’ve done everything they could to make the commission, and me, successful.

The commission’s administrative team has provided capable direction day to day on road and bridge issues, legal matters, personnel issues, and budget and finance problems. I can point to a number of successes that they were instrumental in, and I really can’t think of a single error the commission made that I can lay at their feet. They’ve been trustworthy advisors and friends, and I appreciate them for the great job they do.

I wish the incoming administration the very best, and will do anything in my power to accomplish a smooth transition. And Jan and I look forward to many more years of working with you to make our communities, and our county, better for all of us.