For outgoing Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver, politics runs in his blood.
“I plan to stay involved. At what level I have no idea, but our families have been involved for years and I plan to continue that tradition,” he said, adding, “My grandfather was county attorney in 1936 here.”
That gravitational pull to politics is apparent in his history with the board.
He was District 1 commissioner from 1990 to 1994 before losing that office. He returned to the commission eight years ago as chairman.
“A fair amount of people had request I get involved, No. 1,” he said of his decision to return. “The second (reason): the current chairman at the time had a totally different policy than I would have had. He was totally no growth. He was of a little bit different persuasion than I would have been.”
Grow Hall County he did, in the business, outdoor and educational fields, including the Featherbone Communiversity, ProCare RX and the new government center.
Oliver, who lost his re-election campaign to Dick Mecum in the August Republican primary runoff, has received a show of support from the colleagues he leaves behind.
District 1 Commissioner Craig Lutz said that though he and Oliver did not see eye-to-eye at first, he developed a great admiration for his leadership.
“I will say that the chairman has probably done more for this county out of his sheer personality than most people have done through all the efforts they could have put behind it,” Lutz said. “His personality has driven a lot of things that have gotten accomplished over the past eight years.”
District 2 Commissioner Billy Powell, who ascended to the commission as a newcomer when Oliver was elected chairman, echoed those sentiments.
“He’s a true visionary. He thinks outside the box, which is an attribute of a true leader,” Powell said.
He cited the effectiveness of the strategic meetings Oliver led during his time as chairman in establishing a path for the county.
Fellow departing commissioner Ashley Bell had warm words for Oliver at a Thursday reception at the Hall County Government Center honoring them both.
“I probably have learned more from him than anybody in my life,” Bell said, turning to Oliver. “You get your mind wrapped around doing something and you go for it. And that’s leadership.”
Even in the twilight of his position, Oliver spoke to the projects he hopes will stay a priority.
“If I had one thing I would like to stay, to keep in my sights, that is the Glades Reservoir. I think it has a tremendous future for Hall County, and I would like to hope that it gets fulfilled,” he said.
His outlook for the county is bright.
“I think Hall County is in as good a shape and as good a position as any county in the country,” he said.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs praised Oliver’s willingness to make “tough decisions” in facing fiscal issues “no one anticipated the extent of,” he said referring to budget challenges faced by the county and nearly every other government body during the recent recession.
“The new commission is coming in under different circumstances. And that’s because a lot of tough decisions were made,” Gibbs said.
“To be that well off in these tough economic times says a lot about Tom’s leadership,” said Katie Crumley, the county’s public information officer.
Oliver said the key to leading the commission has been good staff and good communication.
“The secret is being able to create rapport with the county employees, the other commissioners and the general public — and with the press as well,” he added with a laugh.
Now Oliver will have more time to concentrate on priorities outside the county.
“We have a small business, family business. I plan to be more involved in it,” he said. “I will have more flexibility now not having to worry about the welfare of a county the size of Hall. In order to do your job, you’ve got to care.”
That level of caring perhaps indicates Oliver’s desire to staying plugged into the political dialogue, but in a lesser capacity.
“I anticipate I will not seek public office, but you never know,” he said. “I’m 65 this year so I think it’s time for newer, younger people to be involved.”