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Area officials shocked, saddened by Evans' resignation

POSTED: April 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hours after Mike Evans announced his resignation, many area officials who lobbied hard to keep him on the state Department of Transportation Board for five more years say they are shocked at his decision to leave — especially after such a hard-fought battle only three months ago.

Evans announced his resignation Thursday morning, citing his desire to pursue a personal relationship with DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham.

Evans’ re-election meant repercussions for some, including Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who was stripped from his position of chairman on the Children’s Health Issues subcommittee of the state House of Representatives after voting for Evans’ re-election in February.

Collins declined to speak specifically about Evans and Abraham, but said the situation hurts the state.

"The news of today (Thursday) makes it difficult for the DOT and the people of Georgia," Collins said. "It opens up old wounds and keeps us from moving forward with solutions to our state’s transportation problems."

Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, who voted against Evans’ re-election, was not at a loss for words after reports of Evans’ and Abraham’s relationship surfaced Thursday, although he said he had no animosity for the former chairman of the DOT board.

"This could make a difference on our thoughts on the DOT commissioner, but it’s all too soon to contemplate," Amerson said.

Evans was re-elected to the board in February, despite House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s intentions to have him replaced. Richardson’s ire was incited when Evans voted to make Abraham the new commissioner of the department instead of Richardson’s chosen candidate.

Evans’ re-election was secured by the lobbying of local elected officials and the eventual votes of the area’s legislative delegation.

Amerson said it seems as though Abraham should resign from her position as well, but "I’m still thinking about it," he added.

Thursday’s announcement sent ripples through the DOT. On Monday, Abraham may be out as commissioner.

Amerson said he was skeptical that the romantic relationship between Evans and Abraham had only been going on for a month.

"You have to wonder whether or not this was going on during the time he voted for her to be the DOT commissioner ... but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being," Amerson said.

Other, more local officials who lobbied their state representatives with letters and calls, urging them to vote to keep Evans on the board only three months ago, say they are shocked at Evans’ decision to leave so soon. But many of them were at a loss for words Thursday afternoon, having just heard the news.

Gainesville Councilman Bob Hamrick said the news about Evans’ resignation "certainly came as a surprise" Thursday afternoon.

"Many people stood by him and obviously rooted for him to be re-appointed," Hamrick said. "But this is a personal decision in his life, and you can’t argue with that."

Gainesville Councilman George Wangemann echoed Hamrick’s sentiments, saying he hated to see Evans leave the board, but understood the reason.

"We did fight long and hard for Mike Evans to be there, and he did a good job while he was there," Wangemann said. "It’ll be hard to find an equal or better replacement for Mike Evans, but I’m sure they’re out there."

Several people are capable of replacing Evans on the board — some local names have already been mentioned as a possible replacement — and Hamrick said he just hopes it is someone from Hall County.

However, Hall County Commissioner Bobby Banks said he felt betrayed by Evans’ resignation, saying Evans could have handled the situation better than he did.

"I’m not happy with the chain of events that happened today," Banks said.

Banks said a lot of county officials backed Evans, and Evans’ resignation was a disappointment after all that effort to keep him on the board.

"I’m really disappointed that it turned out the way it did," Banks said.

Yet Banks and Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs are optimistic that Hall County could end up better off when someone new is elected to the board.

Scroggs, who had not heard the news of
Evans’ resignation when The Times contacted him Thursday afternoon, seemed shocked to hear about Evans’ sudden resignation.

"What is this world coming to?" Scroggs said at first. "After all that fighting and everything we went through, now this comes up.

"I don’t know where it puts everything, you know, in perspective."

Evans’ resignation raises questions about what will be the future of construction projects in Hall County with many of the officials who spoke with The Times Thursday, but the answer remains to be seen in who fills his position. "That’ll be interesting to watch and see who gets his position," Wangemann said.

Hearing that Chris Riley, the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Evans, Scroggs sounded relieved.

"I think he’d work for the good of the entire state. I don’t think he’d just work good for Oakwood or Hall County. I think he’d work good for the whole northern region," Scroggs said.

Riley has since withdrawn his name from consideration as DOT chairman.



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