It was inevitable that the first person to occupy the county-wide elected chairmanship of the Columbia County Commission would have a difficult job.
Leadership is hard enough; it's even tougher in a job that isn't yet defined.
Four years ago, Ron Cross was retiring from a career in commercial construction. His company had built the new Columbia County Justice Center in Evans, and the experience - and frustration - of doing business with the government pushed him to enter public life.
Cross' vision was to help make government operate more like a business. Private companies can't afford delays and inefficiencies, and Cross believed his years as a business owner gave him the skills and experience to improve the way government works.
Cross impressed us as knowledgeable in the right places, and thoughtful in others where experience would soon fill the gaps. We recommended that voters choose him as chairman, and they did.
Four years later, is Columbia County better off? Absolutely, it is. Thus, we recommend the re-election of Ron Cross.
The road hasn't always been a smooth one. We have often differed with Cross' actions and decisions. Never, however, have we perceived Cross doing anything other than providing the service that he believed was best for Columbia County's citizens.
"You're always going to have some new problems when you're in something for the first time," Cross says, acknowledging that he was surprised at how un-businesslike government can be.
Since becoming chairman, Cross has meant business with community improvements, such as:
• A ban on indoor smoking, approved by commissioners. Smoking sections no longer exist in the county - and it certainly hasn't stalled the growth in restaurants.
• Overhauling the antiquated way fire service was funded, and providing full-time service from professional firefighters to citizens in all unincorporated areas of the county.
• Adding a center turn lane on Washington Road in Evans. It was a small but meaningful victory, but thanks to Cross and other officials, motorists didn't have to wait on the Department of Transportation - as they were forced to do with the state's agonizingly slow Furys Ferry project.
• The opening of the county's new main library. This incredible facility reinforces Evans' ranking as the 32nd-best place in the nation to live.
In some respects, that Money magazine recognition worked against the commissioners' thorniest proposal: consolidation. In a county with such glowing accolades, change is a hard sell.
Yet even consolidation's angriest opponents should consider:
• Even though the county next door has destroyed citizens' confidence, Augusta's experience is irrelevant. Augusta-Richmond County consolidation was a ghastly, racially divisive Frankenstein. Columbia County's proposal would simply allow the county government to also function as a city, thereby taking advantage of state laws unique to each.
• We're not yet sold on consolidation, but not even Cross' opponent disagrees with what Cross wants next: A referendum to let the public decide the issue.
• Rather than being driven by Cross, every step toward consolidation has been approved by a majority of commissioners.
Just as Cross deserves a share of credit for the county's accomplishments, he expects to take the heat when it stumbles. Voters like putting a face on their government, and that face for the past four years has been Ron Cross.
Cross understands that reality, and continues to promote a positive vision for thriving Columbia County. It's a county that his service has improved, and one that he should continue to lead.
Ron Cross has met or exceeded our expectations. We recommend his re-election.
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