In 2003, Ron Cross took the helm of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners as its first voter-elected chairman in more than two decades.
The position, though often consuming for the political newcomer, has been an improvement for the board, Cross said.
"I think it was good to have a countywide elected chairman who's responsible for to the overall county and supposedly above the things that go on from district-to-district," he said.
Three years earlier, voters had endorsed the change in a nonbinding referendum, and state legislators approved the move. Lines were redrawn in the county, resulting in four districts and one at-large chairman sitting on the board.
Previously, the chairman was selected internally by the sitting commissioners - a vote that will still take place for the vice chairman's position Jan. 6.
Under the state law, the board chairman is responsible for executing county contracts and agreements; conducting commission meetings; preparing and presenting the agenda for each meeting; appointing committee chairmen; nominating the county administrator, with ratification by commissioners and representing the county for official functions, or arranging for a substitute.
"It's easily a full-time job, and can be just as much as you want to make it," Cross said about the responsibilities.
For Cross, who is 62, the switch came at an ideal time in his professional life. He already had been planning to phase out his role with CCI Construction Co., the building company he owns that was in charge of constructing the new courthouse in Evans.
Though Cross continues to work on the logistics of closing the business, he said CCI has stopped taking on construction work.
The transition from business to politics has been one of his biggest challenges, Cross said.
"The biggest discouragement, coming from the private sector, is the time it takes to accomplish something and the number of diverse personalities involved in each situation," he said. "It has taken a while to adjust and has taught me to be patient and more inquisitive."
Under the former system, Cross would have been eligible to run for the District 1 seat. But he said he would not have taken a stab at local government if the board had remained totally divided by districts.
Though he said he understands the need for commissioners to be able to respond the district voters that elect them, Cross strongly supports having a member who is free to vote beyond the needs of one portion of the county.
"It also allows each district commissioner to have an impartial ally in district and countywide matters," he said.
It's a structural change that other local elected boards also could benefit from, Cross said.
"The school board would be wise to go ahead and face up to that situation too," he said.
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