Last week, for example, the situation on the Houston County Commission had two dramatic events in less than 24 hours.
On Thursday, Chairman Ned Sanders announced he was retiring from the post he’s held the past decade, deciding against running for re-election.
The following day, county Director of Operations Tommy Stalnaker announced he was running for the chairman’s position.
The jury assembly room at the County Courthouse was filled to capacity for Stalnaker’s announcement, and the atmosphere was that of a coronation.
Everybody who is anybody in Houston politics was there, from all the cities, the Board of Education, business community, friends and family.
Not content with just announcing his bid, Stalnaker early on thanked former District Attorney Kelly Burke, who had previously said he was going to make a run for the chairman post.
As it turned out, Burke said after the event he was not going to run, that he was a ‘Tommy Stalnaker guy.”
Stalnaker said he knew it was a crucial time for the county, given the economic realities we’re facing.
He then told me he was taking a vacation this week, a smart move.
Other than Burke, no one has yet stepped forward to announce they’re seeking the post, and the general feeling around the county is that Stalnaker will have no opposition. Qualifying for political office takes place the last week of this month.
Stalnaker has an impressive record, built during his 38 years serving the county, and he’ll have to rely on his experience to help the county prosper in the days ahead. These are tough times that call for clear vision in forming policies that will help the county attract residents and businesses.
On another front, the proposed new Law Enforcement Center for Warner Robins has taken a life of its own. The City Council has been discussing this for at least the past five years, and earlier this year approved one site – at Jimmy Perkins Field – and an architect.
But as with all things political in Warner Robins, a council action is always subject to change.
The council has called for a special meeting Thursday evening at the site of an abandoned FoodMax grocery store building on Russell Parkway to discuss that as the site for the center.
I don’t feel too comfortable with that, being that Russell Elementary is nearby, along with homes directly behind it, not to mention the potential for aggravating an already-bad traffic situation on Russell Parkway. I’ll have to wait and see what the council’s reasoning is for abandoning a downtown site and instead placing a police headquarters so close to a school and residential areas.
While it isn’t totally political, another change in leadership took place this week as the Houston County Board of Education appointed Robin Hines as the school system’s new superintendent.
Though a relative newcomer to the county, Hines has shown he has leadership qualities and a sense of what it’s going to take to pilot the school system in the near future.
Retiring Superintendent David Carpenter, in a meeting with other area superintendents last month, sounded the alarm that school systems are facing money issues, aggravated by seven straight years of austerity cuts in state funding.
Fewer teachers, fewer programs and more students in classrooms are just a few of the things we should expect to see in schools, he said.
Hines, as assistant superintendent for school operations the past two years, knows all too well the dire financial straits the system has to navigate, but he knows he has the luxury of widespread community support for the schools.
The county has weathered tough times before, thanks in large part to that support. While other systems were engaged in legal wrangling 40 years ago fighting desegregation, our leaders at the time were intelligent enough to read the writing on the wall and devote their efforts to making integration succeed. The long-term benefit of that realization can be seen today, as the school system is one of the best in our state. Other systems have had to deal with shrinking populations, competition from private schools, and facilities now in need of repair, but the school system here has long been a source of pride and a major factor in attracting new residents and businesses.
The county’s governing entities are seeing a major change in leadership this year, with new mayors in all the cities, a new chairman of the county commission and a new superintendent of schools. What that means I don’t rightly know now, but I’m optimistic these rookies can continue the successful policies of the past while breaking ground on new directions for the county and its cities and schools.