Liberty County is one of the fastest-growing counties in our region and one of the most controversial. Now voters there must decide who will lead their community for the next term, as they choose a county commission chairman in three weeks. A half dozen people started this race in June. After primaries and a runoff, two candidates remain.
Jimmy Smith says his four years as Liberty County Commission chairman has been anything but quiet.
"It's been a whirlwind. A general whirlwind," he said. "I got elected along with five brand new commissioners. None of us had ever held office."
Smith says the toughest issue they faced was the existing fight with then tax commissioner Carolyn Brown. Smith fought Brown over money she'd paid herself while others wanted the matter dropped.
"But by the time they did get behind us, our board had been fairly seriously polarized to put it rather mildly," said Smith.
While Smith now campaigns on lowered millage rates and development, former Riceboro mayor John McIver says the real issue is bringing the community together.
"The main thing is unifying our county, bringing unity back to citizens, bringing more recreation parks in neighborhoods, more citizens involved, making government open to citizens, accountable to citizens," McIver said. "I think there's been bickering and fighting and lack of unity in the board and that falls on the leadership."
McIver says a unified board would bring more industry to the community. Smith says that kind of growth must be balanced against the coastal ecology. Both men agree county decisions over the next four years could affect Liberty County for generations to come.
Of the other commissioners, one is retiring and two more were defeated. Ironically, the chairman, whoever it will be, and the three new commissioners will serve two-year terms as Liberty County splits its election terms.