For Steve Cronic, being elected Hall County sheriff was the realization of a childhood dream.
“I grew up really dreaming of being sheriff one day,” he said, adding with a laugh, “A lot of people kid me — they said I ran for sheriff for 20 years.”
Twelve years later, as his time as sheriff expires, Cronic doesn’t deny the position has been tough.
“It’s very demanding. It’s very rewarding —but it’s also very demanding,” he said.
In some ways, Cronic’s time in law enforcement began when he was a child.
“I was raised in a law enforcement family, with my father working for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “So I kind of grew up with the department and (being sheriff) was just always something I had in my heart that I wanted to do.”
His 35-year career officially began in 1979, when Cronic was 19, with the state traffic enforcement division of the department of transportation.
He would later work for the Gainesville Police Department, the district attorney’s office and in the private security sector, where he was able to complete his education.
“There was a wonderful opportunity to ask the voters for this job 12 years ago.
“It’s one of those jobs that you don’t put down. It’s 24/7 by nature of the job itself. Again it’s been extremely rewarding, and I’m proud of what the people here have done over the years.”
The job has been especially demanding in the context of when Cronic began and will conclude his time in the office.
“Well you think about the time that I’ve been here, it is bookended,” he said.
On one end is the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.The attacks not only changed the country and the world, Cronic said, but the nature of law enforcement.
“It had a really significant impact on law enforcement. Not just how you prepare, but what you had to prepare for and be prepared to respond to,” he said. “That created great challenges for all law enforcement, because when you talk about homeland security, local law enforcement is your front line there, and always will be.”
On the tail end, the recession has impacted every aspect of the agency.
Cronic is grateful for the support he got from the community.
“This community’s support for this agency over the years, particularly during the hard times, has been nothing short of amazing,” he said.
Those sentiments were reciprocated by those in the Hall County community at a luncheon Wednesday honoring Cronic, held at the Free Chapel Worship Center on McEver Road.
Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, one of the many public figures past and present who attended, praised Cronic’s handling of the cuts.
“We had to trim, I think, somewhere around 11 and half million (dollars) from the budget. Sheriff Cronic was very understanding. The sheriff’s department did a great job in trying to help the commission in making some of those difficult decisions,” he said. “He’s been a great steward of the people’s money, and he’s done it in such a way, I think, where it has had not had an impact on the citizens and the services provided.”
Chief Deputy Col. Tony Carter retired in 2004, and returned to his old position at Cronic’s request in October 2011.
“He’s been a great boss, and one of the best sheriffs that Hall County’s ever had,” Carter said.
Looking ahead, Cronic said the department must continue to run efficiently.
“It’s about being able to cost-effectively do the things you need to do, and finding creative ways to do the things you want to do over and above that,” Cronic said. “That’s kind of been a theme for us over the last few years with the economic crisis.”
Lutz said the commissioners are on the same page with their expectations for Gerald Couch, the newly elected sheriff.
“To some extent, I think he’s going to do a good job of trimming the sails, but not necessarily altering course,” he said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily, at least what I perceive, Mr. Couch is wanting to do.”
Commissioner Billy Powell said while he admires Cronic’s service, he looks forward to new leadership.
“His presence will definitely be missed, but at the same time we’re looking forward to the new sheriff coming in and continuing the fine job that Sheriff Cronic has done,” he said.
Lutz said he hopes that Cronic stays a part of the dialogue in the county.
“He has a servant’s heart. It is my hope that he continues to stay plugged in in the future,” he said.
More than anything right now though, Cronic said, he is looking forward to spending time with his loved ones.
“Your family sacrifices so much when you’re in this position. It’s very demanding of your time, and energies, so I really look forward to concentrating on my family,” he said.
Another aspect of his life Cronic said he’ll have more time to dedicate to is his faith.
“I have wanted to do some things like mission work. I think initially what I really would like to do is spend time with my family — working on family and faith.”
As for his future in public service, only time will tell.
“There will come a time where I really want to see what the future holds; see what doors the good Lord opens for me, and what kind of things are out there,” he said.