As 2003 begins, the terms of two Columbia County Commission members come to an end.
In personality, county commissioners Jim Whitehead and Frank Spears couldnt be more different. Whitehead, an Augusta native and former University of Georgia football player, is a big, often imposing figure. Yet so emotional is Whitehead that at his final Commission meeting, after two eight-year terms, he had to call on a former colleague, Pat Farr, to read his departure speech.
Spears, a Florida native and insurance salesman, is intense and gregarious, with a reputation for speaking out - often in conflict with fellow commissioners who, like Whitehead, prefer quiet negotiations to public confrontations.
Whitehead stepped down on his own from public service, endorsing Steve Brown as his successor. Brown then won the election against Spears, whose district had been combined with Whiteheads during reapportionment.
Even though their paths to retirement are different - Whitehead willingly, Spears at the hands of voters - both men have plenty to be proud of. During their tenure, Columbia County voters approved the Commissions plans for a renewed sales tax that eventually will build a new library. And voters signed off on a bond referendum that paid for construction of a jail expansion and the countys Justice Center.
The two also were part of the Commission that approved a couple of forward-thinking plans with mixed results: the Evans town center district and the stormwater utility. Both concepts have vocal critics, and each is facing a court challenge. But the town center and the rain tax were long in planning and sweeping in their scope, so detractors were to be expected.
The two also have individual accomplishments that will be remembered: Whitehead, for organizing and developing the countys Memorial Day and Christmas celebrations, and Spears for pushing the county to adopt ordinances against seedy massage parlors. (Richmond County is only now following Spears lead by developing similar laws.)
While political observers may well regard Whitehead and Spears as opposites and often as opponents, the two have done one thing all public servants should strive for: theyve left Columbia County in better shape than they found it.
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