The other day we said farewell to two local public officials: County Commissioner Jim Whitehead as he steps down from his Evans seat, and Frank Spears as his single term ends.
Theres a similar turnover on the other end of the county. Veteran state Rep. Bill Jackson is retiring, while one-term Harlem Mayor John Bentley lost his bid for re-election.
Other that their rural orientation, Jackson and Bentley couldnt be more different. Bentleys accent gives away his northern roots; Jackson grew up in the backwoods of Columbia County. Jackson is methodical and conservative; Bentley is impatient and change-oriented. But both have made significant contributions.
Since his first election in 1968, Jackson has served in public office almost continuously, either on the Columbia County School Board or as a Georgia lawmaker. One of the first men elected to the school board - trustees prior to 68 were appointed by the grand jury - Jackson later worked to make the posts non-partisan.
That fit his own personality: Once a Democrat, Jackson became a Republican, winning election from each party. But Jackson was never partisan; he has always been populist. It was Jackson who, in the 2002 legislative session, pushed through a county referendum ending school taxes for those over age 70. Voters easily approved the measure. Voters, too, backed changes in local government favor-ed by Jackson, including the change to an elected County Commission chairman. This came almost 20 years after another Jackson-authored change ending elected chairmanships - demonstrating Jackson knew how to change as the times demanded.
Jackson could be rock-ribbed, however, when it came to history. He put up his own money to build a monument to education icon John Pierce Blanchard. And he fought against building the courthouse annex in Evans instead of Appling.
Jackson also was among the more vocal opponents when the idea of consolidating the countys government with Harlem and Grovetown arose, fearing the loss of those cities charm and character.
Jackson found an ally in that effort in John Bentley, who was replaced as Harlem mayor after a single term. As local elections go, Bentleys victory in 2000 was a near-earthquake as a Yankee transplant beat the native incumbent.
Bentley cemented his shakeup of city government by successfully pushing a change in the terms of city offices from two years to four, and by dumping the citys antiquated paper-ballot system in favor of hiring the countys staff to handle elections. Bentley also worked to get the citys shaky finances in order, and rode herd on contractors renovating the library.
But while Bentley succeeded in getting longer terms for his office, his efforts failed to propel him to one of those four-year slots: Voters instead chose Scott Dean, whose Harlem roots and community-booster efforts endeared him to citizens in ways Bentley couldnt.
Both men now re-enter private life - Jackson after more than three decades of service, Bentley after barely two years. Both have contributed richly to their community, without personal rewards for their service.
And while Bentley wasnt around long enough to even get close to the level of Jacksons contributions, the two nonetheless have in common a communitys gratitude for their hard work.
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