Jackson County’s new board of commissioners took their seats for the first time Monday night, but only after the old board bid farewell to a standing ovation from a packed house.
The formerly all-Democrat board went through a shake-up in the November election, with two Republicans and a Republican-backed Independent sweeping in to take three of the five seats, including the chairmanship.
Brian McMahan, the departing chairman who was defeated by incoming chair Jack Debnam, expressed gratitude to county staff and his fellow commissioners before adjourning the meeting with the famous words of another Democrat, Ted Kennedy, on his 1980 defeat in a presidential nomination bid.
“The only thing I feel tonight really is a sense of gratitude and thankfulness that I’ve been in the position to serve the county for the last four years,” said McMahan, ending with “for all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Before the meeting’s close, several citizens took the podium to let the outgoing board know that they didn’t lay the blame for economic problems and county job loss on their shoulders, and the nearly full commissioners’ room rose to its feet on their departure.
Soon after, however, the new board stepped in to take their oaths of office and start their reign, of which Ken Westmoreland, long-time county manager, will not be a part. Westmoreland officially announced his retirement at the meeting, though he acknowledged the news had been public for nearly a week. Westmoreland maintains that his departure is not entirely of his own volition, though new chairman Debnam has not confirmed that he and other members asked the manager to step aside.
Although no substantive votes were taken at their first meeting, the new board pledged in campaigning to re-examine the county’s steep-slope regulations and county officials’ pay rates.